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Local businesses seek mediation in H case

Submitted by on 1, June 24, 2009 – 6:00 am6 Comments

Local business owners asked the school board Tuesday night to consider allowing them to move their legal efforts to invalidate Measure H into mediation.

The school board offered no public comment on the matter, with President Mike McMahon saying the board can’t comment on pending litigation.

Former city councilman Hadi Monsef sent the board a letter on May 30 asking them to consider allowing businesses to mediate a settlement to their lawsuits outside of court.

“Frankly, this court action neither benefits the School District nor does it help the Property Owners. The only winner is the lawyers who are being enriched by the dispute,” Monsef wrote. “Furthermore, it divides the Alameda community further and deepens a wound that has already scared (sic) the relationship between our Schools (sic) District and the Property Owners.

“I strongly believe that the people with good intention, especially in Alameda, can come together and resolve their differences in a neighborly manner,” he wrote.

Businesses sued the school district in August because they think it’s unfair that many business and property owners are charged more than homeowners. Homeowners pay $120 a year over four years; property owners can pay up to $9,500 a year, an amount that can be passed on to businesses that rent their property.

Business owners who attended Tuesday’s meeting said that the higher taxes, in conjunction with the tough economy, are making it tough for them to survive.

“Hopefully a fair and equitable situation can be worked out for both sides. I hope you can at least consider mediation as a solution to the problem,” said Robb Ratto, executive director of the Park Street Business Association, who appeared at the meeting on the behalf of the businesses he represents.

Ratto said the higher taxes will drive out businesses, force layoffs and increase prices.

David Brillant, an attorney representing the businesses, said the school board can decide to lower the businesses’ tax to $120 – the same charge homeowners pay – without going back to voters.

“If the board wants to make it $120 across the board, we’ll settle it and it’s over,” Brillant said.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said she couldn’t comment on whether the board would be authorized to make that decision since the cases are pending in court.

John Beery, who filed a separate suit against the district, was not at the meeting and it was not clear if he had taken any position on the mediation proposal.

The next hearing in the two court cases, which have been combined, has been scheduled for July 9.

The school board placed the Measure H parcel tax on the ballot last June to help it stave off cuts to school programs. The tax will raise an estimated $4 million a year for each of the four years it is on the books.

The money is being used to help balance the district’s budget in the face of mounting state budget cuts, the district’s chief financial officer, Tim Rahill, told the board in a separate discussion on the district’s budget Tuesday night.

The board, by the way, passed the budget unanimously, even though they don’t yet know for sure how much money they’re getting from the state. The state supplies about three-quarters of the district’s funding.

District staff used Measure H funds, money banked from “categorical” programs like adult education and other short-term funding sources to help balance their budget.


  • Jon Spangler says:

    The fight over Measure H only points out the insane inequities inherent in California's current taxation system and the problems embedded in voters' loyalty to Proposition 13 since 1978.

    If schools and local governments are ever going to have a chance to recover a semblance of stability and adequate funding, we need to modify Proposition 13 and restore continuity to local and state government funding.

    You get what you pay for in this life, and what we are paying for now are inadequate government services (not enough firefighters, planners, police, librarians, tree trimming, or street maintenance) and schools that are crumbling, underfunded, and getting worse despite the valiant efforts of many teachers, administrators, and volunteers. We need to pay more taxes and even out the taxation load so that the poor and disabled are not the ones who suffer every time our economy hiccups.

  • R. Beck says:

    Mr. Spangler, if you had to pay $38,000.00 in Measure H taxes per year like one Alameda commercial property owner, you would not be calling for more taxes. He is just one of 853 commercial property owners, that are unfairly singled out. Measure H is hurting many people in Alameda and we all have to cut back our spending including superintendent Vital, who is getting a 3% raise according to what I read in the paper. I think this is an outrage. The schools are loosing millions while the administrators are taking the money instead of fixing the schools.How much money did they already spent on defending this unfair and unjust parcel tax? This lawsuit could have been settled on Tuesday at the BOE meeting, had they agreed to make it even $120.00 for everyone. I call on you and all Alamedans to tell the BOE to sit down and talk with the property owners and end this lawsuit.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Wasn't it Thomas Jefferson who said, "Eighty percent of all money spent by government is wasted" ? No Council or Boardmember spends money like it was their own hard earned money. Rather they spend like money comes from a never ending supply. Proposition 13 was enacted to keep homeowners from losing their homes due to rapacious spending and concomitant tax increases to cover that spending; re-arguing 13 should be done elsewhere. Proposition H is an unfair tax designed to cover up the unequal school funding mechanism in the State of California. That is what should be changed.

    The ADA formula purusnat to which schools get paid from the state, was set decades ago when Alameda received millions from the federal government. So we get much less than neighboring Pleasanton and Dublin which were spending and building good school distrcts at the time ADA was set. Instead of straightening out the mess and making all school districts equal, the state has been left with haphazard and sporadic fees in some districts and large extra fees in districts such as Piedmont, where they are more easily afforded. And there are few if any businesses to suffer unequal taxing mechanisms.

    There is no real leadership on this issue. If anyone could have solved it, Wilma Chan and Don Perata could have when they were in office. They didn't. SO now we wiat for the courts.

    In the meantime, instead of passing taxes like Measure H, that simply backfire and cause real harm to the community through loss of businesses, voters and school districts should put presssure on our statewide elected officials to clean up the real mess at the bottom. Until there is fundamental fairness there, communities are pitted against one another, and businesses against homeowners etc. No one is working together.

    Hadi Monsef has presented a thoughtful and reasonable solution. It will allow the district to save face instead of screwing over the business community – and risk losing in court.

  • David Howard says:

    Actually, the current school funding problems started well before Prop 13 with Serrano V. Priest, when a group sued over inequalities in school district funding between rich districts and poor districts. This was the start of of the revenue limit system and centralized money distribution to the school districts.

    Read the interview with John Mockler, formerly with the state board of education:


    Some people say that Prop 13 was a backlash against the Serrano V. Priest decisions – people were paying more in local property taxes but the money wasn't going to the local district, it was going to other schools, so they decided to put a limit on property tax increases.

    Also watch who's calling for prop 13 reform – often it's pro-developer or pro-redevelopment actors – they know that with over $4 trillion of property in California held within redevelopment projects in over 400 cities across the state, the redevelopment agencies and the developers they subsidize – not the schools, nor the state coffers – would be the biggest beneficiaries of un-controlled property tax growth. Any Prop 13 reform must come hand-in-hand with redevelopment law reform.


    According to one blogger:

    "Chris Reed of the San Diego Union-Tribune points to statistics in his blog that show property taxes under Proposition 13 have increased faster not only than population and inflation growth, but faster than other sources of state revenue as well, despite the property tax cap."

    (click my name for the full article…)

    and there are plenty of other people who argue that prop 13 provides a reliable revenue stream.

    As I wrote to Don Roberts earlier this week – call Sandre Swanson and ask him to support the effort by state legislators to take some of property tax money BACK from redevelopment agencies and developer subsidies and use it to balance the budget and fund the schools.

  • Jack B. says:

    >>> We need to pay more taxes and even out the taxation load so that the poor and disabled are not the ones who suffer every time our economy hiccups.

    I think you are exactly wrong. Take a look at the recent posts about .gov salaries and you'll find your resources for the poor.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Yawn – Jon,

    I wish it were true that we got what we pay for, but when I look at government spending I have to think -"that's not what I wanted to pay for…" We get crap for what we pay, we get disrespected for what we want paid for, (think lottery, prop 98), we get waste from those responsible for the spending we finance…

    With that immense real estate bubble – we should have had the greatest windfall surplus in CA treasury history where the hell is? What did we get except a bloated government which no one can afford to maintain?

    "Crumbling schools"? – Give me a break. We're just wrapping up spending approx $90 Million bucks on upgrading AUSD facilities in he last 5 years. This includes $63 Million raised locally by the sale of bonds (Measure C) which we will be repaying for the next several decades, -long after you have surrendered your mortal coil.

    We don’t get what we pay for in this life, good luck in the next one. It’s time we evaluate needs vs wishes with an eye for what we can and want to pay for.

    The problem with Measure H includes the lack of community input, the lack of public discussion, the lack of understanding with the “whole community.” This is a recurring problem now with AUSD vs our community, and there is no benefit to either side for AUSD and the BOE trying to pretend they are separate and superior to the community as a whole.

    I understand Ron Mooney is still on the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce – would he be supporting an “H-like” tax on Emeryville commercial properties? Perhaps his perception of small business has been drowned by liquid sugar dollars.

    Could every commercial parcel have been taxed the same $120/year/business license or ‘dba’ registered on the parcel? Did anyone ask qualified lawyers if this would be more or less arbitrary than the way MH was written?

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