Local businesses seek mediation in H case
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.