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Island Talkback: Jeff Cambra on the road to a new school parcel tax

Submitted by on 1, September 3, 2010 – 4:50 am38 Comments

By Jeff Cambra

There has been much speculation about why Measure E, the Alameda Unified School District parcel tax ballot measure, failed to obtain the required two-thirds approval from voters. For those who admit to not supporting it, the reasons vary. “Too many taxes.” “Let the state solve this problem.” “It’s not fair.” Regardless of the reason, it is clear that just enough voters had “some” reason to prevent the measure from passing.

So, for supporters and the district, the question seems to be, “What parcel tax structure and rate will voters support?”

As a professional mediator, the questions for me are: Who are the stakeholders? What is the organization for stakeholder participation in meaningful discussions?  And, can the stakeholders reach a consensus on a parcel tax?

Some of the stakeholders include students, parents of those students, teachers, residents, and the business community. While one would think that within these groups the members would be unified in their views regarding a parcel tax, surprisingly, this is not always the case.

Take the business community for example. This group does not have a single interest. There are numerous interests depending on the type and size of the business, and how a parcel tax impacts the business. Recently, a number of concerned business and property owners met to determine if they could identify common goals and identify principles that could be used as guidelines for having good faith discussions with representatives from AUSD and other stakeholders with the goal of arriving at an acceptable parcel tax.

The Alameda Business Alliance is a consensus group made up of business owners, commercial property owners, and business associations who are interested in being part of the community solution to the current school funding crisis Alameda is facing. Last month, members of the Alliance created a set of principles they support and that can serve as the basis for initial discussions with district officials. The six principles are:

1. The State of California, through continuing reductions to legally required funding of schools, is primarily responsible for creating the financial hardship AUSD is currently facing. These continued cuts will result in reducing the quality of education for our children to an unacceptable level.

2. AUSD continues to provide a quality educational experience to our children in spite of these cuts. However, it is no longer possible to maintain the level of education desired by the community.

3. The current funding deficit created by the state’s continuous failure to provide legally required funding is now so great that no one solution can bridge the funding gap.

4. Therefore, the solution is left to the community of Alameda. This community includes students, parents, teachers, school administrators, school board trustees, unions representing AUSD employees, residential property owners, renters, city staff, the city’s elected officials, nonprofit and civic organizations, businesses owners, business associations, commercial property owners, and local, state, and federal legislators.

5. It encompasses both short term and long term solutions that will result in allowing AUSD to provide the best education experience possible for our children given the resources available.

6. The delivery of quality education is not strictly a business in the traditional sense. However, in some areas, best business practices of efficiency, accountability, productivity, and when appropriate, organizational restructuring based on financial restraints may be applicable.

Beginning this month, the Alliance will be meeting with AUSD elected officials with the intent of working collaboratively to find ways to maintain the excellent education our children receive by attending Alameda schools. Look for updates in this publication as the talks proceed. Based on the initial success of these discussions, the Alliance anticipates including more community stakeholders in the discussion.

Working together, our community can maintain the excellent quality of Alameda schools.


  • Jeff, nice to see ABA stepping up into a proactive role, thanks for all the hard work. A great start to labor day weekend.

  • David Howard says:

    Who exactly does the Alameda Business Alliance represent?

    Not the business and property owners that I speak to. The property owners I speak to are advocating for a simple, progressive, tax, at one rate for residential and commercial, based on square footage of lot size, or square footage of improvements on a parcel. This would be fair to all property owners, raise a substantial sum of money for the District, and likely pass at the ballot.

    It would be progressive in that people with larger property/houses/buildings – who presumably have a greater ability to pay – would pay more. Measure E was regressive in that all homeowners would pay the same rate, regardless of the size of their lot or house, and regardless of their ability to pay.

    The detailed parcel data that I have seen suggests that there is well over the 104 million square feet of taxable land that AUSD says there is. Supposedly Ron Mooney and AUSD have their own detailed parcel data files – not just the summary sheet that keeps getting posted – but, despite my repeated requests, they have yet to produce it. If this data file exists – and I don’t believe it does – than Mooney and the District should publish it. Why won’t the District and the Board work collaboratively with anyone bringing forth ideas?

    Ah, but you say, who does “Alamedans For Fair Taxation” represent? The principals are already well known. As for the rest, its understandable that when one has people storming into your store shouting in hysterics, or telling you to “go back to your own country!” that one isn’t pushing themselves to the forefront. During the Measure E campaign, George Borikas’ neighbors were taking their plastic baggies after cleaning up from their dog, and throwing it on his lawn. What kind of immature, childish behavior is all of this?

    I disagree with most of the points made in this article, which I suspect that Cambra didn’t write himself, but was written by others to hit on all the common talking points.

    The District has to find a way to manage within its available revenue. Yes, State funding is down, but “redevelopment” takes $5 billion a year in property taxes to subsidize land development projects like SunCal’s plan for Alameda Point.

    The District also has to find a way to manage with less funds. Last year, in June, when they knew they needed a parcel tax, they might have started negotiating with the labor unions for a temporary pay reduction – and temporarily reduced administrator pay too – but they didn’t. It’s fallacy to blame all of this on the State and only the State – the Board has to share its burden of the blame, including over-reaching with Measure E (the highest parcel tax in the Bay area!).

    And while AUSD does provide a good education for some students in some schools it simply does not provide a quality education for all students in Alameda. Witness Washington Elementary School, and the low test scores, and its inclusion on the list of schools that parents can pull their kids out of, because it performs so poorly.

    At the current pace,it’s very likely that the new tax will look very much like Measure E, and it’s likely it will lose. The trend in school parcel taxes is towards failure, not success.

    June 2005 Measure A 67.20% (Passed)
    June 2008 Measure H 66.90% (Passed)
    June 2010 Measure E 65.62% (Failed)

  • Leland Traiman says:

    Measure H and Measure E: A 900 square foot condo paid the same as a 4,000 square foot home. Towne Centre is 1,740,532 square feet on one lot (source: Alameda Planning Department), so Towne Centre paid about 1/2 of one penny per square foot. However, small businesses were taxed at the rate of 15 cents per square foot. Is this fair?

  • Sydney says:

    Thanks for the information. As someone who campaigned for Measure E, I do not want to campaign on another split tax. I would prefer the same $/square foot applied to all parcels equally.

  • zackotomato says:

    Who is this group? Why have we never heard of them before?

  • smart voter says:

    Here is another example, the Coral Reef Motel, who rents housekeeping units much like an apartment, is paying $9,500.00 in Measure H parcel taxes, while all the big apartment complexes, with hundreds of units pay only $120.00 for the whole complex per year!

    Lets get a parcel tax on the ballot next year, that is fair and that all Alamedan’s can support.

  • David Howard says:

    The parcel number for the 1.7 million sq ft Alameda Towne Centre parcel owned by Harsch Realty is 74-1200-29-5

    You can look this up on the County’s website, and get a map of the parcel, and see the tax bill, which shows Harsch Realty paying the capped rate of $9,500 for Measure H.

    $9,500 / 1,740,532 is, as posted above, 1/2 cent per square foot.


    On March 11, 2010, the Alameda Sun posted a letter to the editor from Mike Corbitt, General Manager, Alameda Towne Centre. Corbitt wrote “…her asking is it fair that Towne Centre only pay the cap of $9,500 is incorrect as well. We have multiple parcels at the shopping centre and pay a lot more than $9,500”

    Well, that’s sort of true. They do have multiple parcels, and they do pay more than $9,500 overall. But for their biggest 1.7 million sq ft parcel, Harsch pays only $9,500, or 1/2 cent per sq ft. At a flat, un-capped 4 cents per square foot, Harsch would pay about $69,621 on that parcel. That would be about the same as the $60,000 that Corbitt said they have donated to the Earning for Learning Program in the same letter.

    Corbitt also wrote that “…implying that the Towne Centre was involved in the planning of this parcel tax is incorrect and totally false.”

    Fine, I take him at face value. So the question then turns to the AUSD Board of Trustees, and Superintendent Vital. That 1.7 million sq ft parcel is among the largest in Alameda. Corbitt says he didn’t ask for any special treatment (the $9,500 tax cap) in Measure E, and presumably he would assert the same thing re: Measure H.

    So why did the Board give him special treatment in both Measure H and Measure E?

  • JEROME says:

    The $/sq ft idea is a non-starter – it’s convenient to presume that ‘they’ have plenty of cash available for ‘my’ needs, but I’m sure it would be destined to fail. Inferring disposable income from property square footage is fallacious and simple-minded. Long-term owners of large properties often lack earning power to cover additional taxes. Many larger dwellings in town are not attractive, and this expense would discourange maintenance and upkeep. Even those owners who may be exempt are acutely aware that the myriad of high property taxes for future owners, transfer taxes and related fees essentially kills the value and equity remaining in their property.

    If you want to stick it to those who you deem to own too much, how about property owners of mid-size properties that own other properties? Let’s have them sell one, and pay for the schools that way. Or, we can determine luxury car ownership registered to Alameda addresses and assess taxes based upon their value.

    With the $/square foot tax you will have property owners on limited incomes with no children in AUSD schools paying several times what another property owner would pay with several AUSD schoolchildren (not to mention tiny properties staged as Alameda addresses to let in out of town students).

    This form of tax propoosal will repel too many Alamedans, and solidify their general resistance to AUSD. It may be catnip to the socialist-minded crowd, but should be dropped from serious consideration lest another campaign be wasted.

  • Kate Quick says:

    Isn’t it refreshing that someone is at least trying, in a logical and reasonable way to work toward a positive outcome to preserve and protect our schools? Are our children not worth our coming together as a community to see to it that we provide for their educational well being?

    Mr. Howard, try really hard to find it in yourself to be positive and look for some good outcome in what Jeff and many others are trying to do here. Only a bare one third of the voters denied our schools funding this last time around. That means that nearly two thirds thought education was worth our money. If we can find a way to work toward community understanding and funding for our schools, what is wrong with that? Come to the table with a spirit of positive participation, Dave Howard, and see what power of a positive, cooperative effort can do to make our community better.

  • David,

    Jeff did indeed write the piece. And he said that he’d be happy to talk with you if you’d like to contact him. Please let me know if you need his contact information.

    As to your point about Towne Centre, I think the same issue applies to all of the property owners with large parcels, including some local ones – and I think that speaks to what Jeff’s talking about here in terms of different businesses coming at this issue from different places.

    By the way, Towne Centre’s total bill under H for the 14 parcels they own is $57,026.42. (Without a cap, Harsch’s parcel tax bill on the one parcel you mentioned, incidentally, would have added more than $226,000 to the $593,290.82 they already pay.)

    I had a story about what businesses are paying and what they’d pay under Measure E here:


  • Chrissy says:

    I did not like measure E–I have a small house for less expenses–so “the simple, progressive, tax, at one rate for residential and commercial, based on square footage of lot size, or square footage of improvements on a parcel”–sound right. Why can’t a parcel tax be set up that way?? What is wrong with that??

  • Chrissy says:

    Also, would be good to know how the money will be used–ie schools have free lunches–who pays that? Are administrators helping with pay cuts or at least freezing the current rate of pay. Is the parcel tax going to the teachers and the students–that seems to be the main concern I have heard from people that I have spoken with.

  • John says:

    It is getting tougher to live in Alameda. Between the Hospital and schools the taxation is getting out of control. Let’s see how the vote turns out if you have No Senior Exemption. A tax were you get to vote for others to pay is just wrong!

    I am not against a parcel tax, Measure-E was just not fair, and the district was asking for way too much money and not everyone pays.

    I will vote for the parcel tax when we have one high school, and eliminate all of the out of district students. The district needs to consolidate.

  • David Howard says:


    I don’t hear anyone advocating that Harsch/ATC should pay an additional $266,000 per year in school taxes. That’s based on the 15 cents/square foot in Measure H. The commercial rates in Measure H and Measure E are higher in part because AUSD made a discretionary decision to exempt private religious schools from having to pay the parcel tax. (Even though those schools divert students, and State money, away from AUSD.)

    AFT is advocating for a much lower tax rate – less than 5 cents per square foot, if based on lot size – and no cap. Under such a structure, that would be an additional $59,000 per year on that parcel, not $266,000. As Mike Corbitt likes to point out from time to time – the Towne Center is one of the largest contributors of sales tax to the City – they have a greater ability pay because of the retail revenue, should they pay more?

    The answer to that question is whether or not you believe in progressive taxes or not. “Progressive” meaning that those with an ability to pay more are asked to pay more. (That’s like income taxes – higher tax rates for higher income earners.) Jerome clearly doesn’t believe in a progressive parcel tax, but the majority of Alameda residents do tend to lean towards progressive.

    The cap in Measure H, and the one proposed in Measure E, means that the tax is not only progressive, but that different property owners pay a different tax rate – 15 cents/sq foot for some, and 1/2 cent per square foot for others. As Leland Tremain asked – is that fair?

    And I’ll repeat my question – why does the AUSD board routinely give ATC special treatment?

    Chrissy – AUSD is talking about pay reductions for teachers and admins for NEXT year, not this year. But presumably they hope they won’t need to do that, because they hope to pass a new parcel tax in the spring. Most of the money will go to teachers, and teachers’ pensions. The District has to contribute to CalSTRS, the $132 billion teachers pension fund, something on the order of 4% of teachers’ salaries.

    As for Kate Quick – I request that you kindly do not lecture me. So far as I know, I’m the only one to have published an article about AFT’s proposed alternate tax structure – pennies/sq foot, no tax cap, same tax rate and structure for both residential and commercial, etc. (Click my name.) The Sun, the Journal, and this publication were all provided with details of AFT’s proposed structure.

    AFT is, in fact, trying to work in a logical and reasonable way to arrive at a positive outcome on the parcel tax issue, and I generally agree with what they propose, and I have helped publicize their proposal.

    • David,

      Could you please clarify, then, what you mean when you say ATC gets special treatment?

      I don’t think anyone is saying AFT is not attempting to find a positive outcome on the parcel tax. One area where I have a data gap as a reporter is on the square footage calculation. The district and Ed Hirshberg of AFT appear to be working off very different taxable square footage calculations – Ed generated his own, and if my memory serves correctly the district got theirs from a consultant though I would have to check my notes to be sure. I called the county to ask them for official numbers and apparently they don’t calculate those – they said I would have to hire a consultant for around $20k to put that number together for me, unless I happened to be proficient in some pretty fancy computer programs that I confess, I am not.

      I should add that I think it’s extremely positive that there are so many folks out there acknowledging that the district needs money and seeking to own a solution to that problem. And I sense that Jeff is seeking to pull those groups together in an effort to make that happen.

  • David Howard says:

    Er… that should read “regressive” – “The cap in Measure H, and the one proposed in Measure E, means that the tax is not only regressive…”

  • David Howard says:

    Michele – from what I have seen, there are very few very large parcels in Alameda that get capped out on Measure H. The 1.7 million sq ft ATC parcel APN 74-1200-29-5 is one of the ones that get capped out. The cap protects a select few of property owners, ATC/Harsch Realty being one of them. Providing a cap is “special treatment” for large property owners. The cap means that they pay a lower tax rate than other property owners – that’s “special treatment.”

    Exempting the private Catholic schools from paying the parcel taxes is also “special treatment.”

    Why do the Catholic schools deserve “special treatment” ? Why do large property owners like Harsch deserve special treatment?

    This is the summary sheet that AUSD provided to document their estimate, from a consulting firm, of the taxable sq ft in Alameda: http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/parcel_demographics.pdf

    Some people have sworn up and down that AUSD and Ron Mooney have detailed parcel databases – a record for every parcel – to back up the numbers on that summary sheet. AUSD told me once already that they don’t have such a detailed file, that they only got the summary from the consulting firm. Neither Ron Mooney nor Kirsten Vital have responded to my request for Ron Mooney to share the detailed file that Mooney supposedly has.

    AFT DOES have a detailed parcel database – a record for every parcel – that I have seen, and they are scrubbing.

    AUSD’s 104 million sq ft of taxable land doesn’t pass the smell test. That suggests that ONLY 30% of the land in Alameda is taxable. (There are some 345 million square feet of land in Alameda – 12.4 sq miles.) I calculated the taxable land on my block and arrived at less than 15% non-taxable land (sidewalks, roads, right-of-way, etc.)

    I believe AFT plans to make their database public, so you should be able to get access to it to check your numbers.

  • David Howard says:

    So which parcels are those? APNs?

    Why should those owners get special treatment in the way of a tax-cap that lowers their effective tax rate?

    • David,

      They belong to a number of different property owners. A number of them belong to Legacy Partners, the company that owns the office space in Marina Village. All told, they have the biggest parcel tax bill in Alameda (see the story I referenced earlier fo that information).

  • David Howard says:

    I believe they do belong to a number of different property owners.

    Do you have the parcel numbers for those properties? Are you willing to share them? We’re all working on this collaboratively, and positively, with the best intentions, right?

    And again – what is the rationale to give large property owners special treatment through a tax cap? Or to give some property owners special treatment through exemptions? You say that 144 parcels capped out at $9,500/year. There are over 30,000 households in Alameda, and the parcel database I’ve seen contains over 20,000 records. 144 / 20,000 is 1% Why does 1% of the property owners in get special treatment?

    AUSD’s number, 104 million square feet, cannot be correct. That implies that 70% of land in Alameda is not taxable. That figure doesn’t make sense.

    Nor does it make sense for AUSD or anyone else to spend $20k to get a one-page summary of taxable property in Alameda. Both ParcelQuest and DataQuick quoted me something on the order of $800 to $1,200 for a detailed data file of all the parcels in Alameda.

    From DataQuick:

    Hi David:

    Thanks for contacting us. We’re running a special this month on our Farm database. That would allow you to search for all the homes in a given area and download data about the owner, home size, etc. I’ve attached a sample file for your review.

    The are $0.03 each so this list would cost approximately $1,200. You pay via credit card then we send you a logon and password. You can then enter the Website and download the data in an Excel format.

  • Robb Ratto says:

    On behalf of the Park Street Business Association’s (PSBA) Board of Directors I take exception to Mr. Cambra’s comments about the make-up of the “Alameda Business Alliance” and how the six “principles” were created.

    He states the “alliance” membership includes “business associations who are interested in being part of the community solution to the current school funding crisis Alameda is facing.” Well, PSBA is very interested in finding a solution to the school funding crisis in Alameda but we are not a member of the “alliance”. I too, would be interested in knowing which associations are “members” of the “alliance”.

    Mr. Cambra made a brief 10 minute presentation to our Board of Directors on August 25. The board listed politely and attentively to his presentation. At the end of the presentation, which included the six principles, the Board thanked him for his time and wished him well. We were not asked for our input on the six “principles”. They were presented to us as listed in his article. We were not asked to join the Alliance at the Board meeting. In fact, until today, I’ve never heard of the “Alameda Business Alliance”.

    Ironically, our Board President, Debbie George and I met with Superintendent Kirsten Vitale and School Board member Ron Mooney this very morning to begin the process of crafting a parcel tax the vast majority of voters in Alameda will approve of during the election that more than likely will take place in March. We had a frank and open discussion with them and both Debbie and I left that meeting convinced PSBA, and other members from the community, will be able to put together with the School District a parcel tax plan that will work for residential and commercial property owners while providing the necessary funding to ensure Alameda of having excellent schools. I believe the public process to this end will begin at a meeting scheduled for September 21, at Kauffman Auditorium.

    If that group includes Mr. Cambra and his “alliance” I’m sure the School District will welcome their input on the parcel tax that will be written by and submitted to the voters for approval by the School Board.

    I just wanted to set the record straight pertaining to PSBA.

    Best Regards,
    Robb Ratto
    Executive Director
    Park Street Business Association

  • Leland Traiman says:


    You said “that 144 of the 832 commercial parcels on the city’s tax roll are capped out at $9,500 for Measure H.” One of those 144 commercial parcels is Towne Centre, which, if it paid the same rate as small businesses, would have paid $261,079.80 instead of $9,500 that it did pay.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Mr. Howard complains that Ron Mooney and others have not made public a data base which Howard cannot even confirm exists. Meanwhile, he says AFT has produced it’s own data base, yet it has not been made public either. This is O.K. because he claims they “intend” to make it public? Seems like Mr, Howard’s usual double standard to me.

    Mr. Howard is suspicious of Alameda Business Alliance, apparently because unlike ATF which we are all supposed to recognize as fully legitimate and vetted, Mr. Howard did not have a direct hand in inventing ABA.

    Having long term knowledge of Mr. Cambra’s public track record on a number of issues including League of Women Voters and his mediation work, I trust that ABA is not a product of pathological narcissism on his part, unlike another person from whom we have heard a lot on this subject who only trusts his own handy work. (“So far as I know, I’m the only one to have published an article about AFT’s proposed alternate tax structure – pennies/sq foot, no tax cap, same tax rate and structure for both residential and commercial, etc. (Click my name.)” etc., etc….)

  • David Howard says:

    Michele – I suggest that if you want to share the data, you simply upload the Excel spreadsheet to your website and create a link for it. That is, if you really mean to make it accessible for everybody and contribute to the efforts to find a fair resolution to this question.

    Use an FTP client to upload it to your “uploads” directory on your site (I use WordPress too) and you’ll get a link to it something along the lines of:


    then we’ll all be able to manipulate the data and contribute to the solution.

    AFT, ABA, and any other groups working on parcel tax ideas will also be able to cross-check their data with your data file, to try to eliminate errors and discrepancies.

  • David Howard says:

    Actually, Leland, its a fallacy to say “…if it paid the same rate as small businesses, would have paid $261,079.80 instead of $9,500 that it did pay.”

    Because it is likely possible that AUSD could have constructed Measure H with fewer exemptions for certain properties, like private religious schools, and done a better job at calculating the total number of taxable square feet in Alameda (104 million sq ft is too low to be correct), that with a flat $/sq ft across all parcels, the nominal rate for ATC could have been less than 13 cents/sq foot.

    In any event, nobody has responded to my question, posed several times – why does ATC deserve special treatment.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    It sure appears from most of the comments that folks would rather fight over money (or question authorship) than unite in favor of our schools and our kids. And the kids are ALL ours, BTW, whether or not we now have adopted or biological children of our own in a public school. Too bad.

    Jeff and the Alameda Business Alliance are making a good-faith effort to find a consensus. And what thanks do they get for this?

    It appears that the PSBA Board did not “get” Jeff’s proposal, but I’m sure that the point of his presentation to them was to recruit PSBA, and PSBA should most definitely join ABA if its motives are what Robb Ratto claims they are…Most other posters would apparently rather criticize the ABA, AUSD, or each other rather than get together and contribute to a positive resolution in the form of a new and successful parcel tax.

    What is wrong with this picture? Can we start to “play well with others” and stop “running with scissors” at each other?

    Come on, folks–get over it and get on with it. We are talking about preventing drastic and possibly irreversible harm to a generation of students and teachers here, not your weekly Starbuck’s allowance. Can we drop the animosity for a change?

  • Chrissy says:

    So can a tax measure be made up where it goes by SQ feet or based on current property taxes paid something–that way if you have more–bigger property–pay more–as I said earlier–I bought a small house because that is what in the future I could possibly be able to keep.

    Sliding scale–just not a SET amount like the ridiculous hospital. Even a different scale for commercial and residential is ok-just sliding scale type–more fair.

  • Jay Schurman says:

    In California we seem to be a people who need to spend more money than we have. This article assumes that Alameda has excellent schools. What is your definition of excellent schools? What is the graduation rate for our kids? Compare that percentage to what you would get for a grade in a school.

    Someone should be writing about why they believe our schools are so great. Perhaps there are other solutions than trying to throw more money at the problem. Our state is spending $500 per person this year that it does not have. We have pensions that are unfunded, so why is a new parcel tax going to solve our school funding problems?
    These are questions that I have not seen answered. If you want a parcel tax to pass, you should consider covering these topics.

  • j cloren says:

    Jon — who is Jeff Cambra and what are his credentials? What are his major success, if any, and what does he bring to the table?

    I want to know more about the ABA and WHO (organizations) are the involved participants? It’s interesting he talks about a newly-formed group but does not mention specifics. I’ve heard from a few people that SUNCAL is a participant on the ABA (perhaps indirectly) is this true?

    If Mr. Ratto and PSBA have decided not to be part of it, they have that right. The PSBA board is responsible for making decisions on behalf of their membership, and should not become a “participant” in another group allowing those decisions out of their hands. If PSBA is meeting directly with AUSD, that is good — they are hearing information directly from the source, so they can make informed decisions moving forward. I commend their leadership, and wish other organizations would do the same. Alameda does not need another business organization — they need businesses to work together not be further fragmented.

    No one should put all their eggs in one basket.

  • David Howard says:

    Chrissy – within the terms of California law, the tax could be structured pretty much any way that AUSD sets their mind to.

    Last year, AUSD pretended to consider a tax based on a flat-rate per square foot of lot size, but then dismissed the idea, saying the $/sq ft would need to be too high. I say “pretended” because I believe the parcel tax advisory group was mostly hand-picked by the AUSD Superintendent to arrive at a foregone conclusion.

    But that was based on 104 million sq ft of taxable land in Alameda – out of 345 million sq ft. According to AUSD, 70% of the land in Alameda is NOT taxable. As I’ve indicated before, that doesn’t pass the smell test. I did a back of the envelope calculation of taxable and non taxable land on my block, and came to less than 15% of the land non-taxable.

    I have repeatedly asked AUSD and Measure E proponents to back up the figure of 104 million sq feet with a detailed parcel tax database. One Measure E proponent has asserted repeatedly that AUSD and Ron Mooney have such a database, but nobody will produce it to substantiate their claims. So the 104 million sq ft number is probably bogus. Too low either by error or design.

    AFT hasn’t released their database yet because they are still scrubbing the data. Imagine the attacks we’d see on sites like this if they released their file and someone found errors in it.

  • Chrissy says:

    Jay Schurman is correct and those items hopefully will be addressed–I do not believe that the schools have improved any since I went through them and they were horrible then and I was considered a good student.

  • David says:


    The parcel tax is regressive and that’s definitely unfortunate. However, this is not because of local decisions. AUSD is constrained by Proposition 13 (Article 13A, Section 4) of the California constitution which says:

    ARTICLE 13A [TAX LIMITATION] Section 4. Cities, Counties and special districts, by a two-thirds vote of the qualified electors of such district, may impose special taxes on such district, except ad valorem taxes on real property or a transaction tax or sales tax on the sale of real property within such City, County or special district.

    So basically the 2/3 requirement and the ban on “ad valorem” (value related parcel taxes) is written into the state constitution. This has been interpreted as including any square foot tax. Not sure how this relates to business parcel taxes but the different aspects have been hashed out in the courts for the last 35 years.

    I don’t think anyone can now argue that repealing prop 13 would not make property taxation more fair in a number of ways. Might also put more real estate on the market and make prices generally lower too.

  • David Howard says:

    David – the way that other people (e.g. Berkeley Library Relief Act) have successfully dealt with the Prop 13 prohibition on ad valorem taxes is to use parcel size or building improvements size as a proxy for value or ability to pay. A per sq ft parcel tax would be progressive, and would be the next best thing to a (prohibited) ad valorem tax.

    As for your argument about repealing Prop 13 putting more real estate on the market and making prices lower – you’ve not supported your claim. And even if it’s true, current homeowners would want to maintain Prop 13 to prevent home price declines. Remember the pro-Measure E signs – “Protect home values!”

    The recent (10 years) rise in housing prices, and subsequent spectacular decline – across the country – has more to do with the expansion, and sudden contraction, of credit than with California’s Proposition 13.

    And you may be surprised to learn how little impact Prop 13 really has on valuations. As I have written previously:

    “71% of the parcels on the County’s 2009-2010 tax roll have a base year date of 1990 or later. Those properties account for 90% of assessed property value on the tax roll.”

    So turnover of property – and market value re-assessments – under prop 13, continue at a healthy pace.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    J Cloren,

    I’m not sure why you are asking me about Jeff’s credentials, but he is a long-time Alameda homeowner and he recently retired as the Assistant City Attorney for another local jurisdiction. Jeff is also a trained and certified mediator, which is the particular skill set he is using with the parcel tax issue here, I’d say. I have known Jeff for several years.

    He is also:

    1) the city-appointed facilitator for the Sunshine Task Force,

    2) the producer of Alameda Currents,

    3) active in BikeAlameda, the League of Women Voters, and other community groups.

  • David says:

    I’m sure this is a dead thread, but I would argue strongly about proposition 13. Long time homeowners are strongly discouraged from selling and moving to smaller places (as the kids grow up) or places closer to their jobs as these change. You made the argument for me : 30 percent of the homes (long term holdings) have 10% of the assessed value. Making buying and selling homes even slightly more fluid could have a positive effect on commutes and the nature of communities. And yes, I’d argue it would decrease home prices by putting some older homes on the market. It may be a marginal effect but it is real.

    The ad valorem section of the constitution refers to school funding. I assume Berkeley public libraries get out on that count. I am only aware of per parcel taxes for school districts and I know other jurisdictions which have specifically stated they avoided parcel size or square footage to stay within the bounds of the constitution (i.e. Palo Alto Measure A).

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