Thursday, May 17, 2018

Comment on City of San Leandro Plans for Parcel Tax in November 2018

I support tax measures that enhance the public services and programs as long as I am confident the money will be well spent (which requires at a minimum that the public agency is currently managing its budget well).
Accordingly, I am opposed to the hasty and ill-planned effort by the City of San Leandro to place a parcel tax measure on the November 2018 ballot. The City is running a significant budget deficit due to exploding pension costs for public safety workers. Any funds raised in the new tax will be used to backfill this deficit and not address the cause of the City budget deficit nor result in any sustained, enhanced services for our community.
Moreover, the San Leandro school district's parcel tax is expiring in June 2018. The district is managing its funds well. Renewing its parcel tax is vital for the continued success of our schools. If the City Council places its own parcel tax on the same ballot as the school parcel tax, the City Council will likely cause both measures to fail (as each requires 2/3 support for approval).
The City Council, if it proceeds with a parcel tax this November, is risking inflicting significant damage to the partnership between our City and schools that so many of us (myself included) have worked extremely hard to foster and enhance for the benefit of the children of our community and welfare of all San Leandrans.
Below is an article in today's San Leandro Times on the City parcel tax under consideration.
City Council Looking at Parcel Tax
Tax money wanted for rising police, fire salaries, pensions
By Amy Sylvestri SAN LEANDRO TIMES • 05-17-18

The San Leandro City Council is considering asking taxpayers to open their wallets and approve a special parcel tax for the police and fire departments.
The City Council voted unanimously on May 7 to begin the process of putting a parcel tax for public safety on the November ballot, which would largely go to police and fire salaries and pensions.
The next step will be to poll the public to see if there is enough support to pass the tax.
It’s an election year and the endorsements of the police and fire unions can give a candidate a boost. More than half of the council is up for reelection in November.
But the tax may be a tough sell to voters – as the city’s budget projections show it will be in the red for at least the next decade, due to rising expenditures.
The voters have approved four other tax measures in less than five years. Measure HH passed in 2014 and extended and doubled to a half-cent an older sales tax. Measures NN (a tax on marijuana sales), OO (a tax on warehouse space), and PP (a hotel tax) were passed in 2016.
The new public safety parcel tax is being considered because the city faces looming unfunded pensions. Also, the police and fire unions say they need more money for equipment and staffing.
Currently, the fire department wants $650,000 for new vehicles and equipment, as well as money for additional crew members. The police say they need $400,000 for new radios.
But by far the biggest expenditures come from salary and pension costs.
Currently the San Leandro Police Department accounts for $40 million of the city’s $112 million budget expenditures, which funds 135 staff members – 93 of which are sworn officers. The average annual cost of an officer is $270,000 including benefits.
The city contracts fire services with the Alameda County Fire Department at a cost of $23.7 million per year, which pays for 63 firefighters in town.
The amount of the tax is still to be determined after public polling results. The city is considering taxing an additional $140 per parcel, which would bring in $6 million per year.
Yet to be decided: commercial and residential priorities could be taxed a different rates, the tax could be assessed based on size or per parcel, exemptions for seniors and disabled people could be considered.
Only one public speaker addressed the City Council regarding the tax. Sean Burrows of the firefighters union unsurprisingly said that he’d like more funding and said that putting a tax on the ballot couldn’t hurt because it gives the public a chance to make the decision.
Former Mayor Stephen Cassidy emailed a statement Monday saying that the city shouldn’t attempt to ask for more taxpayer money at the same time it is forecasting 10 years of budget deficits and has $188 million in unfunded pension costs.
“Exploding pension costs constitutes the cause of the city’s looming fiscal crisis, (so) San Leandrans will legitimately ask why the city has not immediately cut its expenditures and entered into negotiations with employees to reduce pension costs prior to seeking any new tax,” wrote Cassidy. “There will not be (enough) support in the community for a parcel tax to fund rising and unsustainable pension costs for public safety officers.”
Councilman Pete Ballew acknowledged that he has spoken with several residents who are concerned about the city’s finances.
“I haven’t even asked the public; they’ve volunteered it,” said Ballew. “They are very vocally wanting to know what we are doing to raise revenue and lower expenditures.”
Ballew, who is a former police officer, said that the city’s cops and fire personnel are their “own worst enemy” because he says they do their jobs so well that he public might not think they need more staff or funding.
Aside from the issue of public support, another challenge will be a significant time crunch – the city usually likes a full year to work on a tax measure and it’s now less than six months to election day.
Councilman Ed Hernandez countered that waiting might not pay off if there is an economic downturn in the meantime.
“If we don’t do it now, the probability of it passing in 2020 may actually be less,” said Hernandez.
Mayor Pauline Cutter ultimately voted to go ahead with the polling, but said she was wary of rushing the tax and having it result in an unsuccessful vote.
“I hate to be the lone man out but I’m not sure this is the right thing for right now,” said Cutter. “I’m just worried this is going to be back to bite us and we won’t be supporting our police and fire like we should.”
City Council members are all vocal about that support because the backing of those unions can be helpful during their campaigns. This November, Cutter, Councilman Deborah Cox, Councilman Lee Thomas, and Councilwoman Corina Lopez are up for reelection. Councilman Benny Lee is in the middle of his second term, but is running for mayor against Cutter.
The school district is also considering a parcel tax of its own, which could crowd the ballot and potentially discourage voters from saying yes to both.
Another challenge is that earmarked parcel taxes require a supermajority of two-thirds for approval.
The costs of getting a parcel tax on the ballot would be about $130,000 including consultant’s feels, the survey, and election costs, according to a city staff report.
The City Council said they want the police and fire unions to chip in on the the costs of the survey.

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Parcel Tax for San Leandro Schools

I support a measure that would raise revenue for our local public schools to lower class sizes. California has some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the nation. Large classes are an obstacle to student achievement and cause stress for teachers leading to greater teacher turnover and less young persons entering the profession. 
The school district's current $39 annual parcel tax expires on June 30, 2018. 
Here is a recent letter to the San Leandro Times from the local teachers' union President Jon Sherr on this topic:
There has been a quiet renaissance in the San Leandro public schools over the last 5 years. 
The changes have been numerous and when taken as a whole, dramatic. 
A partial list includes: increased Advanced Placement enrollment leading to a recent award by College Board naming SLHS a national leader (San Leandro Times, April 12), SAT testing for all high school juniors, ongoing improvements to each school’s facilities, teacher-led staff development, the maintenance of a comprehensive Career Technical Education Program, state-of-the art K-12 libraries, and technology improvements including bringing the ratio of computers to students from 1 to 40 to 1 to 1 in four years.
Not everyone may be aware of all these improvements, but our district has grown by over 320 students in the last 2 years while neighboring districts have seen declining enrollment. Parents know good things are happening in our district. 
The San Leandro Teachers’ Association has worked collaboratively with district management to usher in these improvements. It has been a dynamic and exciting time of growth. We look forward to continuing the work of improving our schools for the children of San Leandro. 
Our community has been very generous in passing construction bonds to support the building and upgrading of facilities. It now time for our community to consider supporting a modest parcel tax to insure that the trajectory of program improvement continues. San Leandro is one of the few surrounding communities that does not have a parcel tax. 
Our neighboring districts understand that state funding for schools is inadequate. We have made huge strides, but it begs the question, what more could we achieve with greater community support? The answer is clear…a parcel tax would position us to build upon this renaissance and create more opportunities for the children of San Leandro. 
—Jon Sherr
San Leandro Teachers’ Association

Monday, April 9, 2018

San Leandro Budget Presentation Tonight

Tonight, Apr. 9th, 7pm at San Leandro City Hall, City Budget Director will provide budget update. What's unstated in the presentation is City is running such high annual deficits that it is on target to burn through all of its reserves - including $5 million set aside in case of a natural disaster - in less than 5 years. This is occurring despite a strong local economy and City annual revenues reaching an all time high level of over $110 million.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Opposition to SB 827: Radical Change & Anti-Democratic

California Senate Bill 827 pending in the Legislature seeks to address a serious concern (the housing crisis) in a fundamentally undemocratic manner that will disrupt the lives of countless Californians. 

Here is a video of my comments concerning the bill before the San Leandro City Council on March 19, 2018, asking that they place on a future agenda consideration of a resolution in opposition to the bill. If you agree with me, please write the and ask that they oppose the bill.

#SB827 effectively rezones millions of properties across California including hundreds if not thousands of homes in San Leandro including in the Farrelly Pond, Best Manor, Cherry Wood, Broadmoor, Estudillo Estates, Assumption Parish, Upper and Lower Bal, Halcyon Foothill, and Floresta Gardens neighborhoods.  

If you live in a home on a parcel designated for single family homes that is a certain proximity (1/2 mile in general) to a BART station or any AC Transit bus stop where the bus comes 4 times in an hour during the commute, SB 827 changes the zoning for your house. You are now deemed under state law to live in a "transit hub."

What does this mean? Your house has been rezoned. Your neighbors' houses have been rezoned. Depending on the width of your street, a developer could build a 5-8 story building - with no parking and maximum possible number of units - immediately adjacent to your house - in your formerly single family residential neighborhood.

SB 827 represents radical change to California land use law. It deprives residents of their right to petition local government and shape the future of their communities. The bill transfers the power over zoning and land use decisions from City Hall to Sacramento. 

We are no longer talking about NIMBYism where one set of neighbors tries to stop development on a parcel that they do not own in their neighborhood and, importantly, where the proposed development complies with the local zoning code.

SB 827 takes a blowtorch to the zoning of cities across California. Its target is the single family home. The long range goal of SB 827 proponents is the construction of a sea of apartment complexes throughout single family residential neighborhoods in San Leandro and in cities statewide (though conveniently leaving out most suburbs and not affecting commercial or industrial properties close to mass transit). 

The ends should never justify the means. Please call on our political leaders to oppose SB 827.

Want further information? Want to see how your house is affected? This pro-SB 827 website maps out its impact:

Want to read SB 827? Visit

Want do something about SB 827? Democracy is not a spectator sport. If many of us act here in San Leandro and across the state we can defeat SB 827.

Please contact 

1) Our Assemblymember Rob Bonta 

Phone Number
(916) 319-2018

email - use the link here

2) Our State Senator Nancy Skinner

Phone Number
(916) 651-4009

Email - use this link

Those are the most important. They are the ones voting on SB 827. Start with them please.

3) Finally, again you can contact our Mayor and City Council at and ask that they adopt a resolution opposing SB 827.