Oakland voters face a dizzying number of city ballot measures this fall that cover the gamut – from expanding eviction protections to democratizing campaign contributions.
If you feel lost trying to understand the intricacies of the progressive business tax proposal or confused by the Oakland city charter’s reference to “substitute matrons,” don’t worry. We got you.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about the city’s nine ballot measures, and what impact they’ll have on Oakland’s future.
Councilmember Dan Kalb’s “Fair Elections Act” is perhaps the most unusual measure up for a vote in Oakland this November.
If passed, the measure would establish a program to dispatch four, $25 “Democracy Dollar” vouchers to every Oakland voter ahead of local elections. To be clear, “Democracy Dollars” are not real money that can be redeemed at your local grocery store. The vouchers can only be used to support candidates for city and school board positions. Any unspent vouchers would remain in the pool of funds to be sent out in later elections.
The measure is intended to level the playing field by reducing the impact of big-money donations. The idea would cost the city an initial $700,000 in start-up costs and around $4 million every two years to administer.
If Oakland voters give it a thumbs up, it would be the first “Democracy Dollars” program in California, according to Kalb. Seattle passed a similar “Democracy Dollars” measure in 2015, which Kalb credits with increasing citywide voter engagement and turnout. He hopes to repeat Seattle’s successful campaign here in Oakland.
“This engages not 2% of people in the Oakland electorate – it engages the entire electorate,” Kalb said.
Progressive business tax
Current city tax law requires that small businesses like the Leaning Tower of Pizza pay the same flat tax rate as giant corporations, such as Clorox, which generate millions of dollars in yearly revenue.
The progressive business tax measure would modify these rates so that big businesses pay a considerably higher tax rate.
Though proponents of the measure say it will lower the tax rate for small businesses, that’s only partly true. Many of Oakland’s smallest businesses will actually be taxed at the same rate if the measure passes. All businesses which generate more than $1 million in gross receipts will see their tax rates hiked.
Proponents say the additional taxes are well worth the $20.9 million in annual revenue the measure is expected to generate.
$850 million for infrastructure, housing
This bond measure would authorize the city to spend up to $850 million on some of the city’s biggest long-term priorities. The measure dedicates $350 million to affordable housing and $290 million to paving roads and improving city infrastructure. The remainder of the funds would be freed up to help maintain city properties like libraries and senior centers.
This measure would add considerably to Oakland homeowners’ tax bills, increasing them by about $71 per $100,000 in assessed home value for the 40 years it’s in effect, according to the city’s estimates. But supporters say taxpayers will get some relief on their yearly tax bill as older city tax obligations fade.
If you are among the handful of people who have actually read the Oakland city charter, you may have noticed that it includes some outdated language. It often assumes that the mayor, council members, and other officeholders are men. It also refers to female police officers invariably as “matron,” “substitute matron” and “police woman.”
This measure would update the language of the charter to make it more inclusive. For example, “him/her” would be replaced with “they/them,” and “matron” would be replaced with “member of the police.”
Expanding eviction protections
This ballot measure would make several significant changes to Oakland’s eviction law. Among the most high profile is that it would protect Oakland public school teachers and households with children in public school from some types of eviction during the school year. These households could not be evicted for substantial renovations or so the landlord could move into the unit, but they could still be evicted if they fail to pay rent or violate the terms of their lease agreement.
The ballot measure also would extend existing tenant protections to Oakland residents who live in RVs, tiny homes and all residential buildings except those built in the last 10 years.
Oakland zoo funding
As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease, the zoo is still facing a steep budget shortfall fueled in part by its forced closure during the first several months of the pandemic.
This ballot measure would raise around $12 million annually through a parcel tax that would fund basic operations and provide upgrades to long-deteriorating infrastructure like the zoo’s sewage system.
Oakland residents would have to foot the bill through a 20-year, $68 flat rate tax, which includes some exemptions for some low-income and elderly residents. Coincidentally, people over the age of 76 also qualify for free admission to the zoo.
Should noncitizen parents and legal guardians of school-age children be allowed to vote in local school board elections? That’s the question behind this ballot measure. This proposal, along with a similar one in San Francisco, has been challenged in court. Last month a judge ruled that the Oakland measure should stay on the ballot, despite lingering questions over its constitutionality.
Term limits, other administrative changes
This ballot measure would prohibit City Council members from serving more than three consecutive terms, or 12 consecutive years, in office. It would also give the council members, only one of whom opposed the bill, a pay raise by tying their salary to inflation.
Low-income housing authorization
This proposed measure would authorize the city of Oakland to build 13,000 low-income housing units without having to put each project up for a citywide vote as is usually required. The measure does not actually provide funding for these housing units, but rather opens the door for their construction without the need for a citywide vote.