Former City Manager Patrick O’Keeffe cited the biggest challenge for our city in the wake of his retirement as “Creating financial resources to fund the Capital Improvement Program to replace redevelopment funding” in this 2013 Interview. $30 million dollars annually were stripped from our city budget (roughly half) when redevelopment was eliminated in 2011. Money that went toward parks, services and maintenance of our roads and infrastructure, programs, & bike/pedestrian facilities. The city thinks it may have found the solution for replacing these financial resources and have put measures U & V up for vote by the citizens. Not surprisingly, not everyone thinks these measures are a good idea and an expensive campaign is being waged to defeat them.
A Charter City by definition is “A city in which the governing system is defined by the city’s own charter document rather than by state, provincial, regional or national laws.” Charter Cities were first implemented as a reaction to the bureaucracy of Sacramento by handing over greater control to local vote and putting local control in the community. Cities that lack local resources and cannot stand on their own tend to remain General Law Cities (Clearly not something that applies to E’ville). A city organized under a charter can choose different governing systems including the “strong mayor” or “city manager” forms of government. As of June 2008, 112 of California’s 478 cities were charter cities including our neighbors in Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, Alameda and Piedmont.
Mayor Jac Asher came out with the idea of Emeryville transitioning to a Charter model in her State of the City address earlier this year and all five members of the Emeryville City Council voted unanimously to place it on this year’s ballot. After some legal wrangling with City Attorney Michael Biddle over the language of the measure, the initiative was whittled down to a single page to make it more palatable to voters. Criticisms of the thin language note that it may come at the expense of legally enforcing it.
How Measures U & V Work
Measure U enables Emeryville to restructure from a General Law to a Charter city and measure V would enable the collection of a real estate transfer tax to supplement our General Fund to provide services and infrastructure to residents. These real estate transfer taxes would be collected when a property is sold and is typically split between the buyer and the seller although this is open to negotiation. The tax would collect $12 per $1000 of property value per transaction. This amount is on par with our neighbors in Alameda County but substantially more than other cities in the bay area. San Francisco has a tiered scale. It should be noted that this tax would be in addition to the $1.10 per $1000 County Tax.
How much would be generated by this tax would vary from year to year but if this had existed in 2013, this League of Women Voters post claims it would have generated an additional $2.85M with 85% of it coming from the sale of commercial property (Much of it from the sales of both the Bay Street and The East Bay Bridge Shopping Centers). While individual unit sales would provide something nominal, it’s the large commercial property transfers that would provide the biggest boon to our city coffers according to the city. The numbers provided by The N.A.R. below tell a completely different story (Note, I’ve been unable to independently verify either of their claims).
Opposition to U & V
There is a lot at stake for our city and businesses and not surprisingly, they’ve gone on the offensive to defeat them. A political action committee calling themselves “Citizens to Preserve Emeryville” with funding provided by the National Association of Realtors has poured financing into the election to defeat U & V to the tune of an estimated $85,000. Our city hasn’t seen this kind of money put into an election since probably T & U that allowed the Pixar Expansion in 2004.
One of the representatives of this Committee is long-time Emeryville Businessman and former resident Jason Crouch of All East Bay Properties. Crouch thinks things are fine in Emeryville and argues that adding a tax to real estate makes our city less affordable by creating an unfair burden on home buyers and open to abuse. “Every city that has gone bankrupt in the State of California has been a Charter City. Vallejo, Stockton, San Bernandino … It’s a Pandora’s box in the wrong hands. It invites things in that simply can’t happen under a General Law City” noted Crouch through a personal interview at his Watergate office. “You can’t do the things that happened in Bell, CA under the structure of a general law city. You have to trust not only your current leaders … but the future leaders as well”. The well publicized scandal in the city of Bell, Ca that Crouch references was a recent Charter city that abused its powers and misappropriated public funds. This of course is an extreme example of abuse and unlikely to happen in a city with any reasonable level of oversight. The site CharterWarning.com paid for by the group Middle Class Taxpayers Association was created for the sole purpose of thwarting Charters.
[Corrections] Political supporters of U & V led by Mayor Jac Asher appear to be caught with their pants down here and in an apparent scramble, have created a Yes on U & V campaign calling themselves “United Emeryville” (Uh, did they not think that there would be opposition here?). To combat the information that the N.A.R. is bombarding residents with through a series of mailers (horribly designed mailers might I add), they have begun a resident outreach program with City Manager Landreth and a League of Women Voters representative. Financial support for U & V is reported to be less than $1000 with manually applied stamps and community volunteers. One of the “Yes” mailers was even suspiciously lost in the mail.
Supporters of U & V:
The League of Woman Voters
All Four City Council Candidates
Mayor Jac Asher
Vice Mayor Ruth Atkin
Councilmembers Jennifer West, Nora Davis & Kurt Brinkman
Bob Canter – President of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce
Bill Reuter – Chair of Emeryville’s Finance Advisory Committee
Tom Modic – Realtor and 15 year resident
Gail Donaldson – Emeryville Planning Commissioner and 17 year resident
Opposition to U & V:
Gisela (Kris) Owens – Former Planning commissioner
Susan L. Chase – Board member Pacific Park Plaza Homeowners Association
Mark Zimmerman – Resident
Jason Crouch – Vice Chair of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce and owner of All East Bay Properties
Barry Kurtzer – Realtor and Emeryville Resident
League of Women Voters Pros and Cons:
- Emeryville lost state redevelopment agency funding in the recent fiscal crisis.
- We need a new source of revenue to support our many community services; U and V will provide that revenue.
- If the City had the power to set local property transfer tax rates, the City could have collected more than $2M when the Emeryville Towers were sold.
- The charter cannot be amended without a ballot measure approved by voters.
- Emeryville isn’t broken, why fix it? Surrounding charter cities like Oakland and Berkeley are broken.
- The very limited charter proposed in U could be expanded in future to, for example, increase Council members’ pay, change zoning ordinances and more.
- The property transfer tax will make homes less affordable.
- There is no guarantee your tax money will be spent on important services for residents.
Further Reading & Resources:
November election will dictate Emeryville’s future | ContraCostaTimes.com
Big Money flowing into Our Little City | Mayor Jac Asher’s Personal Blog
The Fight for Emeryville’s Future | East Bay Express
Pros & Cons: Emeryville Measures U & V | League of Women Voters
Out-Of-Town Real Estate Interests Set Up Political Committee | Emeryville Tattler
California charter cities vs. general law cities | Examiner.com
General Law City vs. Charter City | League of California Cities
California’s ‘Charter’ Cities are Under the Microscope | Wall Street Journal
Measure U: Emeryville Charter Adoption | Voter’s Edge
Measure V: Real Property Transfer Tax | Voter’s Edge