Home » Measure E, Special Reports


Submitted by on 1, May 28, 2010 – 5:00 am12 Comments

Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to approve a replacement parcel tax that could bring as much as $14 million year into the Alameda Unified School District’s coffers for each of the next eight years. If it is approved by voters, Measure E would replace the district’s existing parcel tax measures A and H with a $659-a-year tax for homeowners and a 13 cents per square foot of lot per parcel for commercial properties and multi-unit buildings with five units or more with a cap of $9,500 per parcel.

As part of our continuing efforts to keep you informed, we’ve asked proponents and opponents of the tax to make their case. And their viewpoints on the tax are here as part of our customary pro/con series.

The tax’s opponents won the coin flip, so their piece, written by Ed Hirshberg is here:

When Measure H passed by 39 votes, a group of property owners felt that the tax was both unfair and illegal and commenced a reverse validation lawsuit. I am a member of that group, known as Alamedans for Fair Taxation. The tax is approximately 10 fold higher on small commercial parcels than it is on residential. Because the commercial rate is capped, it varies from property to property. After commencing suit we asked the Board of Education if they would sit down and mediate this issue with us. After some time the Superintendent agreed to meet with us. She submitted a proposal that had been worked out in advance wherein she would form an advisory committee consisting of 10 participants, two chosen by John Beery, and eight by her. We balked, immediately realizing that this was unlikely to produce a fair outcome.

But the court insisted that this method of resolution be given a chance. So, pursuant to court order, the Parcel Tax Advisory Group (PTAG) was formed. Its court-ordered mission was to recommend a parcel tax that would fairly resolve the litigation. The advisory group was to keep the court informed with regular reports to the Judge Burr. The recommendation of PTAG was simply Measure H warmed over. It was still a split roll variable rate tax. Both the Borikas litigants and the Beery litigants assured the court that they would seek invalidation of this tax also. Just the same, the Board of Education sprinted ahead to place this measure on a mail in ballot, to be sent in over the next 30 plus days. At least Trish Spencer had the good sense to vote no on this nonsense.

There has been much hue and cry about our efforts learn about the members of PTAG. It is essentially a reverse vetting process, because we were permitted no say in their original appointment. In trying to determine why they failed at their mission, we are finding that the group did not accurately reflect a cross-section of Alameda either geographically or politically. A majority of the group lived in the East End and were parents or already active in the schools. Quite naturally they voted their interests.

PTAG was led by Rob Siltanen, an employee of AUSD. Mr. Siltanen published the following comments on his blog on August 18, 2008: “In the end, of course, no one except Alameda for Fair Taxation can decide whether to file suit. If they do, I think they’ll find that businesses that turn their backs on the clear will of the community by participating in an effort to overturn the popular results of an election will also have the community turn their backs on them.” Among the comments following this blog is one by Page Barnes, an attorney who has done work for AUSD, wherein she says: “I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that all Alameda businesses be boycotted, but I do think it’s fair for people to choose where they want to do business based on their participation in this lawsuit. For instance, if I can buy my gas at gas station A which is not supporting the lawsuit instead of gas station B which is putting its dollars toward funding the lawsuit (the same dollars that could be used to pay the tax), I’ll choose gas station A.” We pose the questions of whether or not it was proper for Mr. Siltanen to lead PTAG, and why are they placing these comments on the Internet in a manner that they have the imprimatur of official sanction?

I encourage you to be an informed voter and read the record for yourself. Just don’t rely on the case number that the school district is using in its published agenda, because that one was discontinued nine months ago. They apparently do not trust informed voters. Go to Alameda.courts.ca.gov/courts then click on DomainWeb and enter VG08405316. Get the facts and vote No on E.

And here’s the Yes on E piece, written by John Knox White:

Measure E, which immediately replaces Measures A and H, is about one thing: maintaining quality education in Alameda.

Talk of lawsuits and other frivolities are distractions that the courts will be throwing out any day now. The judge in the Measure H lawsuits has already stated that he sees no legal issues with Measure H.

The Governor’s most recent budget (called the “May revise”) maintains the deep cuts to education proposed in January. This is on top of the millions of dollars that the state has cut from AUSD’s annual budget since 2000, cuts which have come at an alarmingly accelerated rate over the past 18 months.

The most recent API scores show a continued increase in test scores across all student populations, proving both the success of Alameda’s education and the continued success in attacking the achievement gap.

Thanks to the largesse of our community, past parcel taxes have helped student test scores to continue to rise and graduation rates to climb. But new proposed cuts pose a drastic threat to student success.

Some critics attempt to claim that the source of AUSD’s financial woes is a “bloated administration.” But over the past six years, AUSD has reduced its administrative costs, while the average in districts throughout Alameda County has risen. In other words, AUSD is doing more with less. And after a year of public meetings and input, the district has adopted a master plan that charts a course for AUSD if Measure E passes: maintaining small classes in kindergarten through third grade, continuing music, arts, AP and PE courses, and retaining quality teachers, while cutting $2.5 million in costs to balance the budget.

The alternative – if Measure E doesn’t pass – is grim. A draconian $7 million in cuts will be made this September, growing to $17 million by 2012. Elementary school class sizes will jump from 20 to 32 kids. Middle school electives, high school sports, music and arts classes are on the chopping block. Our neighborhood schools will be replaced by four mega elementary schools (Earhart, Lincoln, Wood, Bayport), one middle school (Encinal) and one high school (Alameda) — the traffic will be horrendous and one wonders if the district will have to sell the non-used sites to private developers in order to pay for the new construction that will be needed.

And yet, closing elementary schools only saves the district a little over $700,000, savings that will disappear if about 150 children leave the district. If this happens, AUSD will end up with construction debt and less income, leading to even more drastic cuts in programs and larger class sizes.

Measure E will preserve the education that our community values so highly, building on the district’s successes in reducing administrative costs. A strong education system adds up to something larger than the sum of its parts. Our schools attract many young families, support our property values, and in turn support the local business community that we all cherish.

More information can be found at www.alamedaschools.org.


  • Rob Siltanen says:

    Here are a few clarifications with respect to Mr. Hirshberg’s statement above:

    * In the fall of 2009 and winter of 2010, I was one of four AUSD employees providing staff support to the Superintendent’s Parcel Tax Advisory Group when the Group met in four public meetings.

    * The Superintendent was a fifth AUSD employee who attended those meetings. The Superintendent led the Parcel Tax Advisory Group.

    * I did not lead the Parcel Tax Advisory Group and was not one of its eleven voting members.

    * Back in August 2008, I was employed as a classroom teacher in Alameda.

    * In August 2008, I made a public comment about the possibility of litigation over Measure H. In his statement above, Mr. Hirschberg quotes from part of my comment from 2008, but he neglects to include my conclusion (which followed right after the passage he quotes): “I hope instead we can move forward together and do our best to recommit to support each other both by protecting our schools and by supporting our business community by shopping locally.”

  • Page Barnes says:

    Now that I have been (ridiculously) called out by Mr. Hirshberg as an advocate of a boycott of Alameda business, I think a few points of clarification are in order.

    First, when I made the comment on Rob Siltanen’s blog back in August 2008, the Measure H lawsuits had not yet been filed, and I had no inkling that the District might hire me to represent it in the litigation. Under the circumstances, I don’t think my comment can be construed as carrying the imprimatur of the District. The comment was my own. (I think the same can be said of Rob Siltanen’s comments. In August 2008, Rob was a classroom teacher and was not part of the AUSD administration, so his comments from that time are no more the District’s than those of any other classroom teacher.)

    Second, I no longer represent the District in the Measure H litigation or any other matter, and I do not speak for the District. So once again, any opinion I express now is mine and mine alone — as it was in August 2008.

    Having set out the all the disclaimers that we lawyers are so fond of, I stand by the comment I made in August 2008. I support local business. I try to shop in Alameda whenever I can, but like most consumers, there are many factors that go into my decision about which business I am going to patronize. I won’t shop at some places because I don’t like the quality of their products. There are other places where I won’t shop because of poor service. And yes, there are some places I will not shop because the business doesn’t share my values. There are, however, some places I go out of my way to patronize because I believe that they are doing things that make our community a better place to live.

    As a business owner myself, I realize that there are some things I might do or say that may affect a potential client’s decision to hire me. I supported Measure H, and I have worked very hard to help pass Measure E. I know that my position on these issues may affect my business. I wouldn’t expect people who strongly disagree with me on these issues to ever hire me to be their lawyer. I’m not expecting a call from Mr. Hirshberg anytime soon. On the other hand, maybe someone who agrees with me will read this post and give me a call if they’re ever in need of a good attorney. Any business owner who believes that she gets a free pass when shes make controversial comments is being naive. It’s as simple as that.

    As a consumer, I make decisions the same way. I won’t dictate what anyone else should do, but I won’t support businesses that openly oppose Measure E because they don’t share my values. On the other hand, I will go out of my way to support businesses that support Measure E. For me, that ‘s both a business decision and a matter of conscience.

    Come to think of it, my kid needs a new bike. I think a trip to Alameda Bicycle followed by a visit to Tucker’s may be in our future.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Many local businesses and the properties they are housed in are owned by Alameda residents. Mr. Hirshberg is not one of them, and I have a hard time thinking of being a landlord as being a business in any typical sense, though he’s certainly an entrepreneur. Mr. Hirshberg, who lives in Oakland, owns Alameda properties in order to extract income as is his right, but beyond providing space for other real business people, he does not provide any service like his tenants who rely on the quality of their service, product and rapport with customers to survive. It’s ironic that Mr. Hirshberg has many Measure E supporters among his tenants whose rent money goes toward financing what seems like a legal vendetta against a tax which was written based on many pre-existing taxes, none of which has ever been challenged. They were not set aside as frivolous, but based on the precedent of similar existing taxes both, suits seem frivolous to this lay person.

    Mr. Hirshberg cites a 39 vote majority ( actually 35) by which Measure H passed as if it should be a pejorative, but he conveniently ignores that if it was even by 1 vote it was over the 2/3 super-majority required for passage of such a tax. It’s disappointing that when given prime space here to state principled objections against the current tax measure, Mr. Hirshberg instead devolves into what this reader regards as petulant nitpicking over forgone legalities.

  • asdf says:

    If above business interests were smart, they’d stop whining about business rates being different the residential rates, illogical lawsuits, etc. Not many people care.

    They could talk about a doubling residential rates or the fact that run-down 800 square foot place in the NW pays the same rate as a mansion in the south.

    Of course, I’m pretty sure they’re not living in the 800 square foot place.

    I’m voting for it (most probably), but I’d prefer a square foot tax across the board with a different rate for retail, industrial, and residential.

  • Marsha C. Gomez says:

    …..interesting rather simple math on Measure E – State of CA reduces funding for AUSD by $7 million for next school year….Measure E regressive taxing method generates $14 million for next year….how can supporters find fairness in that math? I remember for Measure H the supporters were putting children in trashcans – which was a terrible image to see (Thank goodness they did not do that again)…I remember that Measure H was to save school sports programs and music and arts….middle school sports programs were cut and while limited they were funded outside of AUSD – so was that a lie. I’m voting no on Measure E, as I believe in accountability and the school district is not accountable for forecasting and actuals for budgets. There was no accountability on Measure H and now you want double the amount we were paying…wow…do you really “expect that” from us? And if a group is exempt (over age 65) how is it that they can vote that the those under age 65 have to pay a tax? as they say on Saturday Night Live – “really?”

  • Ms. Gomez, A quick review of the Measure H mailers confirms my memory that they said “High School” sports programs. But more importantly, by 2012, AUSD will need to cut $17 million in programs. Measure E will avoid that.

  • Tony Aruda says:

    The entire country is in an ecomonic crises.
    The School district has to think outside the box.

    1. No more pay raises.
    People in the private sector are taking pay cuts to keep their
    jobs. The school district must do the same.

    2. No one should make more than $100,000 a year, including
    the superintentant.

    3. The school district wants the home owners to make a sacrifice, but they won’t. What’s up with that?
    Dedicated people make sacrifices, they just don’t talk!
    The bigest expence in any business, or government agency is
    payroll. You Must Control Payroll!

    I am voting NO!

  • Frank says:

    ballot for measure E is misleading it clearly indicate how to vote , this aside it is the first time renters will allow landlord to increase their rent by as much as $600 dollars a year . That is almost comical . at a time we have all made great sacrifice some are barrely making ends meet we have to sign a blank check to an Agency with notorious bad track record in adminster their finances , by the way Alameda Power and Telecom has some or should have some 50 to 75 millions in excess , enough to pay quite a lot of Teachers overtime for the police and fire dept .No on E do not follow the indications on the ballot.

  • KD says:

    I keep hearing how the AUSD has cut costs to the bone. I’d like to see (more) concrete examples. More importantly, show me where the educational funds came from and how they were spent for the 2009-2010 school year (pie chart with percentages would be good.) Then show me the same based on estimates/plans for the upcoming school years. If the AUSD can graphically show there is no other recourse than more tax dollars, I feel they can win some much-needed votes.

    Tax-payers are hit over the head with politicians/organizations crying Wolf so often, we get cynical/numb. So convince us, AUSD!

  • Steve from Wisconsin says:

    I love reading this stuff, because it makes me very glad that I don’t live in California. Please keep excessively taxing your residents and businesses, so that they continue to flee California to other states – it’s fun to watch!

  • Jack says:

    “What part of “Wisconsin” are you from, “Steve”? It seems strange that somebody from so far away would be so interested in a random small city’s political issues, or that you’d think the local ice cream shop owner would resettle in your state. Pardon me for being skeptical, but you wouldn’t happen to be a “sock puppet’ (pseudonym) for an anti-E Alamedan, would you?

  • 9er says:

    Steve, maybe you don’t know but Wisconsin taxes more (12.3%) than California (11.4%).

    Hahaha… nice try.

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