Home » Measure E, Special Reports

MEASURE E: Businesses and the bottom line

Submitted by on 1, May 25, 2010 – 5:00 am29 Comments

Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to replace the Island’s existing school parcel taxes with a replacement tax that is expected to generate $14 million for Alameda’s schools. If the Measure E parcel tax is approved by voters, homeowners and owners of multi-unit buildings up to four units will pay $659 a year for the next eight years to fund schools, while commercial property owners and owners of multi-unit buildings with five units or more will pay 13 cents per square foot of lot per parcel. The mail-only ballot for Measure E is set to go out this week, and ballots are due in by June 22. The Island has put together a series of articles intended to flesh out issues associated with the tax.

A No on E sign appears in a Central Avenue storefront.

Second of four parts.

Debbie George says she and other business and commercial property owners who have been fighting the school district’s Measure H and Measure E parcel taxes aren’t opposed to the idea of a parcel tax. They say they just want a tax that’s fair.

“I don’t think anybody is opposed to a parcel tax. This particular tax, it’s the way it’s structured,” said George, who owns Pillow Park Plaza with her husband, Frank.

George said she’s not against schools and that she never wanted efforts to pass a tax to fund the schools to turn into a battle between business owners and residents. But she says that the existing Measure H parcel tax places an unfair burden on business owners, and on small business owners in particular. And the Georges don’t think Measure E, which would charge two cents a square foot less than Measure H, is much better.

They are part of a group of about 200 commercial property and business owners that have banded together to fight the taxes, politically and in court.

Some business and commercial property owners who oppose the tax say they want the school district to engage in the same belt-tightening that they have. Business has been way down, forcing some to lay off employees and to consider other cost-cutting tactics. And they are frustrated that in many cases, they are being asked to pay more to help local schools than the homeowners who are more likely to use them – and many commercial property and business owners won’t get a vote.

Others nurse a white-hot anger aroused by the passage of Measure H in 2008, over what they believe is the willful failure of school district officials and other proponents of the tax to hide its full impact on businesses and commercial property owners. And some small business owners believe the authors of the Measure H and Measure E taxes wrote it to avoid angering bigger businesses, at their expense.

In the wake of Measure H’s passage, opponents filed a lawsuit claiming the tax is illegal because it’s not uniformly applied. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Mark Burr is expected to rule against the litigants, though their attorney, David Brillant, has said he will appeal that ruling. And the litigants and their supporters are convinced they will win their appeal. (District officials have said they believe the tax is legal.)

If Measure E passes, George said that legal efforts to get rid of the tax will continue.

Owners of roughly three-quarters of the commercial parcels in town will pay more than homeowners under Measure E, while owners of about 16 percent of the parcels will pay the full $9,500 ceiling for their parcels, an analysis of tax records conducted by The Island showed. Residential property owners will pay $659 a year for the next eight years if E passes, while commercial property owners pay 13 cents per square foot of lot on each parcel, with a ceiling of $9,500.

“I’m just in for whatever’s fair,” said Michael Wright, who owns Fort Knox of Alameda on Park Street.

Wright was one of the few business owners contacted by The Island who was willing to talk on the record – or at all – for this story (and in fairness, Wright said he didn’t know much about the tax). One other business owner asked The Island not to use his name in the story because he fears his business will be boycotted if he tells his story publicly.

Even the local business associations are steering clear of saying no: The West Alameda Business Association and the Alameda Chamber of Commerce stopped short of saying they oppose the ballot measure, while the Park Street Business Association hasn’t taken a position on Measure E at all. (The Greater Alameda Business Association chose to remain neutral on the issue, because their mission is not political but informational, project and event coordinator Patty Jacobs said.)

Still, some business owners support Measure E. Kate Pryor, who owns Tucker’s Ice Cream, said that while times are tough for small businesses, Alameda’s schools need the money to continue providing a good education.

“I hire a lot of high school kids. I want to make sure they’re well educated,” Pryor said. “That’s a very small price to pay for a quality education.”

Other business owners, like Gene Oh at Alameda Bicycle, have also voiced support for Measure E.

The Georges have been some of the most vocal opponents of both Measure H and Measure E, though Debbie George said they don’t oppose the schools – they just wish the tax was written differently.

But for George’s husband, Frank, it’s more personal. A native Alamedan, Frank George lists his accomplishments, including high school football championships and track records, and his history of helping out the community and the schools. But he feels like the district and Measure H proponents pulled “a dirty trick” on him and other business owners by putting a tax forward that placed most of its burden on them.

His position on the tax has stirred the ire of more than a few angry parents, some of whom he said have confronted him in his store to tell them what they think of his views. In the meantime, business at his store has fallen off to the point that he and his wife will be renting out part of their space, they said, though they blamed the economy and not backlash over parcel taxes.

Frank George said he’d prefer to see a flat tax, or a per-square-foot tax that’s the same for everyone. When asked if he would support an earlier proposal that would cost every property owner 13.7 cents per square foot of land – which district officials said would generate the $14 million they say they need – he said that was “way too high.” He said he though a tax of 1.5 cents to two cents would give the district the money it needs, and that the district could make more cuts.

“I want to work with (the school district). They never came to us to work something out,” he said, referring to an earlier settlement offer the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit made.

Frank George said that if the school district loses the lawsuit, they will have to find a way to pay back the taxes they’ve already collected. He said losing the suit could force the district into worse jeopardy than it already faces, and maybe even force them to sell property they own to pay the taxes back.

“They’re showing irresponsibility. They made a bad decision,” Frank George said. “I feel bad. I really do.”

Wednesday: A busted budget

Part one

29 Comments »

  • David Hart says:

    Debbie & Frank George lobbied for, received, and glowed in the press about a massive taxpayer subsidy that directly benefits their business — the new parking garage.

    That position is hypocritical.

  • All Commercial property owners will all see a reduction in the school taxes if Measure E passes. The average commercial property will see an almost 25% reduction than what they are paying under A & H.

    It should be noted that Commercial and Apartment (5+ units) properties make up over 30% of the Island’s land, but only pay 27% of Measure E. Assessed value.

    Fairness, apparently, is relative.

  • Lauren says:

    I understand small business owners being against the tax for monetary reasons. And, of course, that’s their choice. (I would argue that it behooves them to have a city that supports better schools and attracts the sort of people who search out better schools but they’ve already heard all the arguments for the tax). But Webster Street is riddled with vote no signs and it breaks my heart a bit ~ talk about pounding in the coffin nails. Who is going to bare the brunt of the blame if it doesn’t pass? Those businesses with the signs. Living a block away from Webster we’ve always hoped for some sort of revitalization and now it seems abundantly clear that it will just fade away one 99 cent store at a time. It’s an extremely short-sighted and sad response in my opinion.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Time for the district to do what it did last time, close schools. Not the first time. When the district has to import oover 400 out of district students to keep “neighborhood schools” open, it is time to rethink the value of neighborhood schools. Very few parents let their children actually walk to schools anyway. So if they have to drive a few extra blocks in order to ensure a good education so be it.

    We don’t live in a microcosm. What happens to every business, and every individual affects many different aspects of their lives. For AUSD to put its head in the sand and say it doesn’t care if it forces those on limited incomes to lose their homes or businesses, because its employees deserve to retire at age 50, or it needs a Webmaster and a general counsel on staff, is just about as short sighted as it gets. And those parents who say “Its for the children” and “our future” should be honest enough to admit that its for THEIR CHILDREN and THEIR CHIDLREN’s future. Not everyone elses.

  • Alamama says:

    “I want to work with (the school district). They never came to us to work something out,’ he said, referring to an earlier settlement offer the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit made.”

    Apparently, Mr. George has forgotten that the school district offered to work with him and the other supporters of the lawsuit, but they declined to work with the District. See http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/pr_plantoworktowardresolution_090909.pdf

  • Lauren says:

    Barb ~ if the district chose to close neighborhood schools many would immediately go charter so we’d have roughly the same number of schools, regardless. And charter schools have to accept children from anywhere so we’d have even more “out of district” children to pay for.

  • Frances says:

    Closing schools would only save $2-3 million, and the district would still have a $14 million shortfall to make up. They will only be able to do that by cutting programs (sports, art, music, AP) and laying off staff (counselors, teachers, etc.) Closing schools simply will not solve the problem. Yes, Measure E is about MY children’s education, and it is also about YOUR neighbors and customers and future taxpayers and citizens. Children are not pets that only benefit their owners. Our children are the future for you and everyone else in this city, state, country and world. If you fail them now, they will not be there for you later as contributing members of YOUR society.

  • Andy Currid says:

    And closing schools doesn’t come remotely close to addressing the budget deficit that AUSD is currently facing. Continually saying the budget problem is the district’s fault – because it hasn’t closed schools / hasn’t fired enough administrators / admits too many out-of-district students – doesn’t make it true.

  • Jen Laird says:

    A fellow parent and friend talked with some Webster businesses today, after which the businesses took their No signs down. One explained that a guy who says he owns a hotel at the end of Webster passed the signs out without any education at all. A few of the business with NO signs weren’t open, so she’s going to go back later.

    Of course these business have a right to put whatever they want in the their windows. But I think they’re making unwise business decisions in putting E signs up. I’ve talked with many, many families who are taking note of the No signs and say they won’t do business with those stores. I think those business will loose much more in costumer revenue than they will in parcel tax money. I haven’t heard any word of an organized boycott, and I hope it doesn’t come to that as we don’t need more ugliness, but I know people are already making spending decisions based on the E signs.

  • Jen Laird says:

    On a positive note, I am really grateful for business like Alameda Bicycle and Tuckers who are supporting Measure E and look forward to continuing to support them with my money.

  • S.L. says:

    I am on the fence regarding Measure E because my kids don’t go to school here any more and I know many kids who go to public schools in Alameda. But I also think the small business owners have a right to express their opinion since last time I check this is still a democratic country. If an organized boycott is held against those businesses, I will definitely side with them and vote No on Measure E. And please don’t call the people voting No selfish, they may be in some financial distress and can’t afford the parcel taxes (come to think of it, who are more selfish, the ones who don’t want to pay for other kids’ education or the ones who want other people to pay for their kids’ education?). Everyone is in different situation and everyone should be able to vote based on his/her own opinion without being intimidated.

  • ben says:

    once again, pro measure e people do not tell the whole story.

    measure e lowers the tax rates for commmercial but extends the tax for 6 years beyond when measure h was supposed to terminate

    and ausd has no business coming to ask taxpayers to double their taxes if they havent done everything to cut costs. so what if closing schools saves only 2-3 million (ausd says its more like 7) – if they closed schools to save 3 million then the parcel tax would be for a lower amount

  • Lauren says:

    SL ~ I don’t think any organized boycott is being planned. But will people who hold this issue near and dear to their hearts avoid going to those stores? Yes. Will they lose business at a time when they need it most? Yes. They are entitled to their opinion but advertising it is not a smart business move. The people that want this passed the most are the people they need as customers the most.

  • Michele Kuttner says:

    Go Alameda Bicycle and Tuckers for showing true community spirit and good business sense! Spread the word about these two businesses and any others who openly support Measure E. Our family made some significant purchases at Pillow Park-none of which occurred since they joined forces against Measure H. We will not shop there again. I’m not making idle threats but simply agree with what Lauren has to say about business owners who openly come out against Measure E. Our family makes a concentrated effort to shop locally. Families with school age children are the life blood to many of the businesses in this town.
    I agree with Lauren. It hurts.

  • James says:

    What’s with the intimidation of local businessmen? I moved to Alameda expressly for the school districts but I am also a businessman (but the company is not in town). I am on the fence which way to vote. I want my kids to have the best education possible but I also want the schools to be 100% responsible for the use of the money they get as well. The school does need to tighten their belts and I am on the fence because I am not sure they have as much as they should have. With people almost forcing people to hide their opinions I am of the mind to vote with business against measure E. It may be short term to my family’s detriment but it may force everyone to go back and sharpen their pencils.. to fix things for the long term instead of just relying on added layers of tax.

  • David Hart says:

    Intimidation?

    People are free to do business with whomever they like, for whatever reason they choose. Conversely, businesses are not entitled to customers’ dollars, they have to earn them. Most commonly they do so on price & quality, but there is more than one way to earn loyalty, or lose it. (For the record I run a local business and am a PSBA member.)

    I know people who buy their coffee at one shop and eschew others expressly for political reasons. Are they engaged in intimidation, or free choice? What about people who won’t shop at non-union stores? Are they “intimidating” the open shops, or simply acting on their own free will?

  • Alamama says:

    James,

    What’s with the intimidation of supporters of Measure E? The Committee Against Measure E has accused Measure E supporters of being racists and posted a map with links to photos of supporters’ houses on their website. If you are going to base your vote on the intimidation factor, I ask you which is intimidation? Choosing not to spend your money at a business for political reasons or calling a political opponent a racist and then posting directions to and photos of their houses on the Internet?

  • ben says:

    pro measure e people are walking into stores and yelling at mercharnts, telling them to take down no on e signs and saying they will boycott the merchants

    pro measure e people, sometimes kids, i think, are disfiguring no on e lawn signs and tearing them down. what kind of thing is this for pro measure e parents to teach the children of alameda

    pro measure e people are stalking no on e volunteers from their car as they walk precincts or hand out signs

    that sure sounds like intimidation to me.

    alamama please show me the link to the photographs of the houses where pro measure e people live because i don’t think thats correct

    the pro measure e people seem to be unreasonable hysterics

  • Alamama says:

    Ben,

    If you will give me a way to contact you privately, I will send you the link. For reasons of safety, I will not post a link to it on this website.

  • ben says:

    for reasons of safety because i don’t want a bunch of crazy parents sending me hate mail you can get my e-mail address from our host. she officially has my permission to provide it to you.

    that being said – you know full well that there were no pictures of anybody’s house posted anywhere

    and anyway, if all of the pro measure e people are so anxious to put a sign on their lawn advertising tehir support for measure e, then why would they would they care if something was posted onlien? if i want to find out who the pro measure e people are all i have to do is drive through the east end of town

    walking into stores and yelling at merchants as parcel tax people did in both measure h and measure h is not democracy but an attemp at totalariansm

  • Alamama says:

    Ben,

    I just sent an email to Michele directing her to the link, and I have asked her to forward it to you. (She can confirm this.) I want to be fair because I may not have been completely clear in my post above. The actual posting on the Committee’s webpage does not include photos, but the interactive link on the webpage leads to a map which allows viewers to get directions and access photos. To me, it’s the same thing.

    Although you are correct that you can identify some Measure E supporters by their yard signs, the map that is on the website has been repeatedly used in connection with claims by the Committee that the people on the map are racists. That is a very different context than a simple yard sign.

    As to people yelling at merchants, if Measure E supporters are doing that, they need to cut it out. I don’t have a problem with people calmly and respectfully telling merchants that their decision to oppose Measure E will result in a loss of that customer’s business, but I don’t condone aggression or disrespect. If someone wants to tell me that I have lost their business, their friendship, or their respect by supporting Measure E, that’s just the cost of taking a position on a controversial matter and I can live with it. Merchants have to understand that if they take a position on a controversial and emotional issue, they’re going to lose some business.

    So now that I’ve made it clear that I don’t condone harassment or intimidation, do you condone calling Measure E supporters racists? Do you condone posting some supporters homes on a map in the context of accusations of racism (with or without photos)? I have yet to hear an opponent of Measure E condemn these tactics. Will you?

  • S.L. says:

    I propose $9,500 parcel tax for every home/land owners in Alameda to give AUSD enough money to build the best schools in Bay Area. And anyone who says NO to this does not support our schools and should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Alamama says:

    Ben,

    I understand that Michele eventually got my email and forwarded it to you. She can verify that what I said is true. Care to retract your accusation that I’m a liar now? Care to condemn the tactic of calling Measure H supporters racists and then posting their homes on a map?

    I’ll be waiting.

    • Folks, let’s back up a minute and talk about what this election is really about. You’re being asked to decide whether you think the schools need the money the district is asking for, and whether you think you and your neighbors – residents and commercial – should pay. That’s it.

  • David Howard says:

    Yes, this is really me.

    I assembled the Google map that – loosely, they aren’t the exact addresses, which I have – plots the approximate addresses of APLUS members, past AEF members, PTAG members, Measure H organizers, etc. all from publicly available information. I have also written a couple of letters to the editor that, while I never expressly called anyone a racist, despite the comments made here, I did intend to provoke introspection among the voters.

    To Michele’s point, I sincerely believe that the District doesn’t deserve the money provided in Measure E – $659/year v. $309/year for residential – and I do believe that the tax structure has been contrived to make a group of business/property owners who are considered politically weak, pay. You may disagree with my reasons, but as is my right, I have my reasons.

    As tempting as it is to dive into the argument here about implied racism and the difference between posting a map of Pro-E people online versus people yelling at Anti-E merchants in their stores, I will decline to do so. While I disagree with what I believe is Michele’s position on Measure E, and while I may question her impartiality in reporting on Measure E, given that she’s a parent that will be affected if Measure E fails, I’m willing to recognize that this is her website, and she sets the rules.

    I was prepared to answer questions along those lines of implied racism etc. at the Youth Advisory Commission forum on Measure E, but that was delayed, indefinitely, with no date currently scheduled.

    However, I do stand by my position, and I do stand ready to answer those questions, in any safe and sane public forum, free from hysterical behavior, or privately if someone wants to contact me.

    Anyone who remembers the similarly divisive 2006 Alameda City Council election may know or remember that I asked the Alameda Journal editor at that time, Jeff Mitchell, to sponsor a forum on race/racism in Alameda. He declined.

    In the meanwhile, this morning I heard on the radio excerpts from a video documentary called “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible” which to my ear addressed some of the things I see going on vis-a-vis Alameda schools. If you want to learn anything about my position, you might want to watch it.

  • Anna Marie says:

    As an Alamedan who moved here several years ago, and fell in love with the Island because of the charming proliferation of small, one-of-a-kind businesses, I will be sure to stake out every shop who has a No on E sign and support them with my dollars. Perhaps I can do my small part to counter the bullying “It’s for the children! How can you say no to children?” …people, who seem to feel that spitefully withholding money from the local economy is a wonderful way to ‘express themselves’. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

    I suggest that everyone who truly feels that schools need money, and believes that the taxes on small business owners is fair, donate exactly the same annual amount to the school district that would be charged to their favorite small business. Heck, write the school a check. If everyone put their money where their mouths are, without demanding that everyone else to pick up the tab for their kids, the schools would be a great deal closer to meeting their goal.

    Frankly, renting a small apartment from a residential business owner, I can’t afford the hike in rent that is likely to accompany the passing of the measure. Nor do I want to see struggling small businesses on Park close down, to be replaced by big-box stores who can afford the parcel taxes, because they are based outside the local economy. And when rents raise, small businesses lay people off, jack up prices or close their doors, I can only imagine the dumbfounded “What the heck happened?” look on people’s faces. I truly, sincerely hope Measure E is voted down, and something fairer takes its place.

  • Cloud Schnoebelen says:

    Thank you HAPPY SPACE on Park! You just earned another customer. Thank you showing your support…YES ON E!!

  • anotherfrank says:

    I think we need another Measure in this town to provide Education for adults.

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