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Comments on Measure N

Valerie Eisman
Mary Becker
Will Bierman
Sue Yascolt
Val Eisman (2nd)
Hannah James
Jacquee Castain
Bill in Maxwell Park
Susan on Walnut
NovoMetro blogger
    SFist.com
Rob on Monticello
Shailen in Maxwell Park
Jim on Monticello Avenue
David E. Mix
Oaktown News blog
Jane Powell
Zoia Horn
A student of local taxes
Alan Campbell



Once again, we see an artificial need being created and serviced in Oakland when the true needs for public safety and good schools are literally crying for lack of attention.

People need to start looking at the root cause of all these big deals constantly being cooked up in Oakland. All our tax dollars that could be flowing towards public services our now flowing into redevelopment districts. Hence all of Oakland's plans include redevelopment and development schemes. We have to feed the developer's pockets with all the surplus tax increment monies as more and more Oaklanders flee due to the public safety crisis in this city, poor schools and more and more cuts to public services like parks.

We do need a more modern library. But we also need a modern, functioning police services building with a functional crime lab and enough personnel that can proceed the huge backlog of crimes that need investigating and go uninvestigated in several areas of our police department.

Any educator though will second your comments that schools are the best place to serve children in terms of daycare and special programs. We need to expand on the uses of our schools and turn them into full time community centers. That's what all of the parcel taxes we've voted for should be doing. Housing all the nonprofits at the schools where they can directly service the school population.

One of the rationales for this library is for creating a space for public performances. Most people I know don't go downtown. Who exactly is going to venture out of their house and risk going to a public event at night in Oakland at the main library? Have they done a marketing survey? The Oakland Symphony is going under, the Paramount is in the red, the Oakland Museum is also in the red, but we need to build another performance center? Doesn't make sense to me, but few Oakland city government deals with ever do. Dollars talk in this town – big ones tied to big development schemes.

– Valerie Eisman (excerpts)



When my husband and I moved from Marin County to Oakland in the summer of 2000, our property taxes increased dramatically. We have never been able to figure out why. We don't have cleaner streets, we don't have safer streets, and we certainly don't have better schools.

We have come to suspect that most new tax dollars go to social welfare programs like PUEBLO and Youth Uprising. There is no one on the Oakland city council who speaks for the middle class folks of this city, who always end up footing the bill.

How can the City of Oakland ask me for more money when years after Measure Y passed I still don't have adequate police protection? Just last week I called the police at 4 a.m. about a possible burglary at my home only to wait 90 minutes for a police officer to show up. This is ridiculous. It's probably easier to get a cop in Baghdad than it is here in Oakland.

Shouldn't the city make some effort to provide what they are already taxing us for before they start taxing us for something else that we will probably never receive? At my house we have made a commitment not to vote for any new local taxes until Oakland has a functioning police force of 1100 officers.

Seems like we should have a taxpayers revolt...no taxation without representation.

– Mary Becker



We definitely don't need a new main library or a new one in the Laurel or the Melrose ... When was the last time you saw a crowd of people standing in line to get into the Dimond Branch?

– Will Bierman



Have you been to the Dimond Library lately? What time did you go? When I have been there, I see overcrowding and well worn materials, plus a flock of patrons waiting to use the PCs which are old and slow.

Guess what? After 3 p.m., the Dimond Library is filled with kids from Bret Harte Middle School (and probably other schools). Do you think that the schools really have such great libraries that we don't need a public facility for those kids to use? I live in the Laurel and use Dimond all the time. I would love to see a Laurel library. The Melrose Library is being revitalized. So who wants to stop progress? I guess y'all want everyone to just buy their own books...or better yet, stay home and watch tv.

Did you know that the public performance facility already exists? It is the Calvin Simmons Theater. The now defunct Oakland Ballet was on its way to making the Theater its home. I am at the Paramount at least once a month. I do not fear downtown. Most people I know do go downtown.

Who said that the Symphony is going under? What are your sources? I'm a season subscriber and I have been for several years.

I am totally opposed to the use of the facility as a Trade Center for private enterprise. I want something that will really benefit the citizens of Oakland.

Yes, I'd really like status quo and keep the Kaiser Center/Oakland Auditorium just as it is...but that is not an option.

If you have strong feelings on this issue, I suggest that you get on the speaker's list for tomorrow's Council Meeting. See you there!

– Sue Yascolt

[Note: A few weeks later in Sept. 2006, outgoing mayor Brown nominated Ms. Yascolt for a seat on the Library Advisory Commission.]




In my north Oakland neigbhorhood and police beat, the city of Oakland has no designated shelters for the community to go to in the event of an earthquake. That is our responsibility. What about yours? We're told to organize to fend for ourselves. Does that mean we are supposed to arm ourselves against rioters and looters as well? But we are supposed to cough up monies for the palace library.

Books are treated better in Oakland than the people who pay for the libraries.

In general, the Oakland city council is both pro-poor and pro-rich. The liberal bent of many members displays itself in a unique attitude that nowhere have I seen more magnified nor epitomized than in this city: a complete contempt and disregard for the working class, particular those who are not "people of color." The city council has decided that we unfortunate members of the working class who chose to move to Oakland should single-handledly take on the large concentration that Oakland as city has made its policy and mission to welcome. It's not the responsibility of other citizens in the Bay Area nor in California. Just the poor unfortunates who have to locate to Oakland for housing.

And if the working class cannot afford to live here, well, then they are building box-like housing facilities, offering us this incredible deal to purchase a few rooms of space in a tower or large box crammed with other living units called "condominimums." No land, no yard, nada! Just a living unit formerly known as an apartment that you can be privileged to own for as low as $300,000. Then the city council puts us under redevelopment so they can swipe taxes from services to go to even more redevelopment, which is almost wholly defined in terms of housing.

The redevelopment tax dollars could be used for the renovation or building of libraries and public service facilities like a new police building. But forget it, they have used some $40 million or more for a private theater called the Fox Theater, for subsidies to private developers instead of for public services.

Now the council is not satisfied with that. They have embarked on a new round of parcel taxes, having squandered our money for redevelopment and for nonessential services. Are they even being modest? Are they asking for $50, $75? No. It seems no parcel tax appears to be considered now that is under the sum of $100. If anyone opposes these policies, we are tagged the "anti-poor", the enemy of poor, disadvantaged children in this town. I mean, how could we possibly oppose such noble-hearted, virtuous, self-effacing schemes to provide palace-like structures for poor children?

Heaven forbid we should locate library services in the elementary schools situated right in these poor children's neighborhoods where they will be easily accessible to all. Heaven forbid that computers should be incorporated into after-school programs by all the parcel taxes that we have just voted for, including Measure Y, which provides for such programs.

– Val Eisman



As to that $148 million, 36-year library bond (of course we all love libraries), I remain incensed that with half the city barely on life support, we are even being asked to pay more taxes.  It is like putting lipstick on a toad!

[Subsequent comment:]

Folks,

Now it is official, Oakland is the 8th most dangerous city in the USA...not that we are surprised. This city has a one billion dollar budget, and yet we can't get basic services like safety and sound infrastructure. Our sewers are 85 years old and crime is awash in our streets. We passed a library tax in 2004. Enough is enough.

Foreclosures are reaching record rates, recession is due to hit next year, drug costs are killing our elderly, in fact all costs for everything are rising everyday.

The trendy move of budgeting by bond on the ballot is foolhardy, even dangerous. This city, in particular, has a dismal track record on performance w/reference to these assessments. Look at Measure Y, look at how OFCY (Oakland Fund for Children & Youth) had to beg, threaten, and plead to get their just funding from the city (funds from yet another assessment), a $2 million dollar shortage, just a few short months ago, look at the LLAD and ask yourself what you derive from that $100+ assessment. Folks, it is time to show City Hall the hand. No new taxes!

For those of you who have disposable income, feel free to donate funds to a library foundation or such. Please, recognize that more than half this city is barely on life support. Leave our collective wallets alone.

VOTE NO, NO, NO on Measure N!

– Hannah James



Unfortunately, the city of Oakland has a poor history of creating projects that are self-supporting, less costly to the residents, generate income from the private sector, receive foundation grants, are adopted by individuals and included in their wills (or family trusts), seek government grants and use other creative ways of raising funds.

Instead, the only thing they seem to know is to keep going back to the voters and beg for money for numerous years with no consideration for the people's source of income. Have any of these officials ever performed a survey on the large number of low income, retired senior citizens in the city of Oakland? Have any of the local govermental agencies ever thought of the financial pressure they place on low-income people with these multi-year bonds? I doubt it.

While the library department is placing this bond on the ballot, they received a state grant to build a new library on land donated to them by the Oakland Unified School District, next to Woodland Elementary School on the corner of Rudsdale and 81st Avenue. The new school construction has been completed. But if you drive by the site, you'll see a large, gravel vacant lot – because they don't have the money to construct a new library. In fact, they are trying to raise money from Measure N to complete the library for this site. Is this a good plan? I don't think so. They need better planning to raise funds for maintenance of city libraries.

– Jacquee Castain



I'm straddling the fence on this one... I use the library more than anyone else I know, so you don't need to sell me on the importance of libraries. And I'd love to see another branch nearby.

But can someone explain a few things about this proposal to me?

1. Why are we being asked to pay yet another parcel tax [actually, a property tax based on assessed value – Editor] to pay off the bonds, rather than paying from the general fund, like other bonds?

2. For how long will we be paying off these bonds (i.e. paying a parcel tax), and what is a best/worse case cost-over-time scenario?

I see this measure as an important issue, and I'd love to support it wholeheartedly, but that parcel tax really taints it for me. So please, feel free to let me know your thoughts on this.

Ms. Quan or Ms. Brooks, feel free to jump right in, as well. I think we'd all benefit from knowing the thinking on this issue (at least those two questions) from one of our neighborhood councilmembers or someone on their staffs.

And for further discussion,

3. In the official voter pamphlet I just received, why did the rebuttal to the arguments against the measure begin with an ad hominem attack, rather than debating the issues? Am I the only one bothered by that?

– Bill in Maxwell Park



I'm newer in the neighborhood and my property taxes are out of this world already. While I'd love a new library and all sorts of other things, I can't afford another couple hundred a year. I'd really appreciate it if the measures that involve an increase in property taxes don't pass. If the City and those who pay very low property taxes want more money, then they should reform Proposition 13 so that the taxes are taken more equitably across Oakland's citizens.
– Susan on Walnut



The literature [for Measure N] emphasized the local benefits and soft-pedaled the $148-million bond's chief element: A new main library in the shell of the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser auditorium. The woman who came to my door said the new library and the adjacent Oakland Museum of California would form a kind of "cultural district" on the south shore of Lake Merritt. If the bond passes, the quarter-mile stretch between Oak Street and Peralta Park may one day brim with culture, but it will be empty of people. I've been to the museum on a Sunday afternoon. And I've been to the library on a Sunday afternoon. There are usually more people eating dim sum a few blocks away in one Chinatown restaurant than in both cultural institutions combined.

(For this blogger's full commentary on Measure N, click here.)

– NovoMetro blogger



The bonds would be repaid through a property tax increase. Recently, there's been a bit of controversy over selling off public property to private developers, and some folks are concerned about what will happen to the existing Oakland Main Library building. The folks arguing against this one are not your standard "no new taxes" Howard Jarvis types, but are fairly liberal people that feel the City has done a piss-poor job managing its money and property, and that the majority of this money will go towards a fancy showplace downtown rather than support services in more troubled neighborhoods.

– SFist.com



Our property taxes are six times what the previous long-time owner was paying. It seems to me that the City must have seen a significant increase in revenues due to home sales over the last few years.

I can't feel too bad about not supporting additional assessments.

– Rob on Monticello



As someone who considers himself an enthusiastic supporter of the library system, can I please urge all of you to vote against Measure N.

We are contemplating here a very, very expensive upgrade in the library system with a great deal of excess in the buildings and infrastructure part of things. For a homeowner whose property is assessed at $500K (and this would include just about everyone who moved to this neighborhood in the last couple of years), this would mean a cost of $198 and more every year for 30 years because of Measure N funding. Sorry, I don't have that kind of money.
 
Further, we are talking here about a city with a chronically understaffed police department and dreadful city services. Really, at this time should we really be supporting raising millions of dollars for sleek-looking library buildings?

If I felt Measure N was really about books and learning, I could be persuaded to support it, despite the cost. It isn't: this is a classic pork-barrel project where the money is mostly going to be spent on fancy buildings, expensive furniture, etc. And, it will cost more than is being advertised. Cost overruns always happen.

Plus, I have no idea why anyone thinks that a mega library in downtown Oakland is a good idea in the first place. Who exactly would go to it? Wanting to spruce up the library in the Laurel, adding a room to the library in the Dimond, buying several million dollars worth of books to spread out through the library system are all reasonable goals, and an initiative that boosts the local libraries would surely enjoy considerable support. I don't think that a mega library in downtown would actually get much use. Ask yourself, would you drive all the way to the Kaiser Center area to go to the library? Or would you rather just walk to an upgraded local library?

Can I urge folks who are inclined to support Measure N to think of this: it is one thing to want to spend your money to fund initiatives that you support; it is another to force other people to pay for it. Yes, I know this is generally how taxes work, but please consider that there are some in the community who would really, really find this an undue financial burden. I urge all to vote No on Measure N. The politicians can then draft a reasonable initiative that boosts the local library system. Such an initiative would garner considerable support from the community, I believe.

– Shailen in Maxwell Park



This city really needs and I personally really want updated library facilities and services.

But it's totally unclear that city leaders will be using Measure N for what citizens really need. If this were a different municipality with different politicians, I might be encouraged to support the measure.

How much money are all the local housing developers like the folks who are building in Leona Quarry kicking in to support our libraries? Can anyone quote a dollar figure? How about Clear Channel and other corporate interests?

Let's forget this measure for now. I would encourage its authors to come back to citizens in a near future election with safeguards to make sure the money is spent wisely and effectively. Give us a measure that imposes fines and jail time on anyone who won't comply with this requirement.

– Jim, Monticello Avenue



Blow It Up
A Tale Of Two Cities

Proponents of the library bond measure propose to completely gut and destroy the interior of the Kaiser Convention Center (the arena) and rebuild it as a library. The proposal is to rip out all the upgrades, the earthquake retrofits, the ADA (American Disability Act) improvements, and haul it all off to the closest landfill.

The improvements and upgrades were made in the mid-1980s with bond funds and a complicated financing scheme orchestrated by former city manager Henry Gardner. In 2001 the Oakland Joint Powers Financing Authority issued tax-exempt Lease Revenue Refunding Bonds in the amount of $134,890,000 for the purpose of refinancing the acquisition and improvements of the Kaiser Convention Center.

As complicated as it sounds, the bottom line is that Oakland taxpayers owe a ton of money in financing and improvements from the 1980s refurbishing of Kaiser auditorium (HJK). Surprise, surprise, we all thought it was fully paid for decades ago.

Now, with the library bond proposal, just like Seattle blew up (imploded) the King Dome while still owing millions of dollars in construction bonds, Oakland proposes to obliterate the millions of dollars in improvements made to HJK and recently refinanced to the tune of $135,000,000. Just like Seattle floated millions of dollars in additional bonds to build a new Mariners Stadium while taxpayers are still paying for the imploded King Dome, Oakland wants more bond money for new construction while years and years remain in paying off the old debt.

Some real quick math: $135 million in old debt, plus destroying a $200 million building interior, and $120 million in new construction equals $455 million. Financing $260 million in bond debt (old and new bonds) over 30-plus years will easily cost Oakland taxpayers over $600 million dollars. That is one very expensive Main Library.

Is it any wonder Seattle recently voted down a massive bond proposal for Rapid Transit, and Oakland voted down the proposed increases for the Landscpe and Lighting Assessment District?

– David E. Mix



For those who don't own homes, it may be helpful to know that the current property tax rate is so high that the tax alone can consume the entire paycheck for an average professional for three months of any given year. I'm talking someone's entire net after taxes – before mortgage, insurance, heating, water, garbage or food. Forty dollars per $100,000 of assessed value may not sound like a lot, but in some of these property-owning households it is equal to five or six weeks worth of groceries. These are households that have already cut all discretionary items to pay their mortgage and taxes. I regularly use the downtown library and would love to have it updated. But instead of adding to the tax burden of our friends and neighbors, we should be looking for better ways to use the money we have.

– Oaktown News blog



All the talk is of wi-fi and computers and teen centers and meeting rooms. These are all fine things, I guess, but let me throw out another figure here: even figured at approximately twice the retail price of a computer (which is about $600), because the city would get screwed on the deal as they always do (remember the very expensive and non-functional Oracle payroll system?), $98 million [the price of the palace library-Editor] would buy 98,000 computers, enough to give a system to every Oakland household who wanted one. And unlike the computer at the library, people would then be able to use the internet to look things up and post comments on websites even very late at night when the library isn't open, as I am doing now.

And if this magnificent edifice at Kaiser Center is built, what happens to the old Main Library? Will it be labeled "under-utilized" and sold off for another high-rise by the Lake, as the City tried to do with the Fire Alarm Building across the street?

Perhaps it wouldn't bother me so much if I actually got some services from the City. But we have no cops, we can't afford gardeners for city parks or people to pick up trash, yet there seems to be plenty of money for planners to "service" the developers, for outside consultants, for a city attorney who is the highest paid official in the state, and for a level of corruption that runs so deep I am hard-pressed to explain to outsiders how bad it is.

I'm a writer. I love books. I love libraries. I will fight for the Kaiser Auditorium to be preserved and not sold for development. But I will not vote for measure N and I urge others not to vote for it either.

– Jane Powell



Sweeping together popular and questionable proposals into one package is an old political trick that too often frustrates many voters. But often the politicians gamble on the enthusiasm for one part to carry the wriggling bundle through to a win.

Measure N is just one such a questionable bundle.

The Kaiser Convention Center is an impressive building, but it is in the wrong place for a Main Library. The foot traffic is minimal. (It does have parking, but then you need a car).

Another issue: Installation of "self-service options for faster check-out." This is quoted from a mailing sent by an Oakland Neighborhood Library Coalition urging a vote for Measure N. Itsounds harmless. What it masks is the installation of a highly controversial RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device) system. ... The major problem of RFID in libraries is that those little tags inserted in books and other materials potentially can be used to undermine the privacy of library users by discovering what they read, listen to and borrow from the library. Librarians have defended these freedoms and rights as part of the ethics of the profession.

In the current period of concerns about governmental surveillance, spying, warrentless searches and attacks on critics and dissenters, this potential attack on library user privacy is an inappropriate technological tool to use in a library. As a retired librarian of many years, I cannot accept this subversion of our basic role as protectors of people's right to think, speak, read without fear of even the possibility of Big Brother watching in person or through reading of radio frequency signals.

[In a subsequent letter to the Berkeley Daily Planet, library deputy director Gerry Garzon writes, "The Oakland Public Library (OPL) has no plans to implement RFID." – editor]

For the first time in my life I sadly will vote against a funding bond measure for libraries. This hodge-podge Measure N is unworthy of support.

As a small addendum: Remember the Berkeley Public Library's year-long battle around RFID that was established without adequate consultation with the community and librarians. The director was asked to resign, I believe. The ACLU opposes RFID, as does the American Library Association, although not as confidently as it should.

(Excerpts from commentary in Berkeley Daily Planet, Oct. 31, 2006)

– Zoia Horn, Oakland



Can any of the "progressives" please explain to me how sky-high taxes and pathetic services promote "social justice"?

To put the tax issue in the right perspective, let's use a hypothetical house valued at $600,000. The homeowner in Oakland will pay about $2,000 more a year in property taxes than a citizen of Fremont for the similarly valued property. The tax bill for a similarly valued property in San Francisco would be roughly $1,600 less than that in Oakland.

Maybe the most telling comment regarding the horrendous tax situation in Oakland comes from Nancy Nadel. The three major Oakland mayoral candidates answered questions put forth by the North Hills Phoenix Association. Responding to a question on drainage in the hills, Nancy Nadel stated, "We are fast approaching taxation levels on property that are difficult for owners to sustain."
(http://www.nhphoenix.org/more/News2006/Election_June/mayor.html )

Ad Valorem Tax Rate
in Oakland and Neighboring Cities

Chart of city ad valorem tax rates

Tax rates vary because of outstanding bond debt. Measure N would increase Oakland's bond debt by almost 15 percent.

– A student of local taxes



What happened to all the folding chairs and banquet tables that were stored at the Kaiser Convention Center and used for banquets and other events there?

A City-owned community center in Oakland recently contacted the City of Oakland to see if they could get some of the folding chairs from Kaiser Convention Center, seeing as how the Convention Center was shut down.

The center was told that the folding chairs were gone and the City has no record of what happened to them. This is a couple thousand dollars of City property that is gone and unaccounted for.

Does this give you a warm fuzzy feeling when Oakland is asking for the passage of Measure N and when it cut the staff and funding for the City Auditor?

– Alan Campbell

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