Editors, Daily Planet:
Just as it has in every election for years, East Bay Regional Park District once again asks for additional funding with Measure CC. They claim, as before, they will use it for resource protection and restoration and they list a bunch of worthwhile sounding projects. In reality, this is a bit of a hoodwink. These projects could certainly have been done years ago, using the $100 million-plus of their ongoing revenues, if this were their priority. Perhaps its better to save these projects for campaign issues than actually do them?
If that sounds harsh, consider this: The park district, almost alone under local government, has an ever increasing tax base. Each year their property tax revenue goes up—approximately $5 million per year every year—and this will continue to be the case so long as there is either new building in our two counties or increasing real estate valuation. While other agencies are facing actual layoffs, the park district continues to grow.
And how does the park district choose to spend this automatic taxpayer largess they enjoy?: They have some of the highest comparable salaries in California and some of the best benefits. The general manager, for example, makes more than the governor. They also have an incredible ratio of managers to workers. For instance, while the California average ratio for police officers to sergeants is eight to one, at the district, there are less than four actual officers for each member of the brass.
They have a $2 million-plus per-year, 14 person public relations department—far bigger than cities and counties ten times their size. And the irony is that this P/R expenditure is money spent to convince you how worthy the district is so that they can ask for even more money at election time.
The district will dispute that they have all the money they need, of course. (Just like you and me, they certainly could easily spend more.) Their best argument is that they, like all of California, is being asked to tighten their belt by a loss of $6 million per year for the next two years, so the state can balance its budget. However, that amount of loss will be counterbalanced by the natural increase in property tax revenue explained earlier. And the cut is only for two years. The CC tax lasts for 15 years!
The most significant objection to Measure CC, however, has less to do with its cost than with the source of the funding: The park district is proposing to tax some of its poorest residents—the urban corridor along the water, which includes Richmond, San Pablo and Oakland—while letting its richest off totally free. That’s right: Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Alamo and Blackhawk all are exempt from this new tax. The improvements proposed are intended for the urban corridor, it is true, but this is a regional park system and all of the residents will benefit. Shouldn’t all residents pay?
How did it happen, do you suppose, that the Park District is proposing such a regressive tax measure, where the poor support the rich? This is the work of the district’s expensive team of consultants, who have been polling for years. It was no surprise, then, for the consultants to find that these were the very people who would support more taxes. That’s how the “urban corridor” concept came about: Let’s tax ‘em where we’ll win, social injustice be damned. Certainly the district should not be rewarded for such cynicism.
Opposition to Measure CC is not a vote against parks. That’s why both the Alameda and the Contra Costa Green Party have taken positions against the tax scheme. Even the Regional Parks Association has refused to support it. What your vote against Measure CC really does is this: It tells a wasteful public agency that it needs to learn to live within its means—just like the rest of us—and that it should not try to use trickery to extract more from its poorest and its most supportive residents. Even the most ardent parks supporter, knowing the facts, should vote “NO-NO on CC.”
Karen Weber, Former EBRPD Personnel Director, Oakland
Alan La Pointe, Chair, Friends of Wildcat Canyon; Co-Chair, Friends of Parks, Richmond
Harlan Kessel, Former EBRPD Director, Oakland
Paul Merrick, Chairman, Dunsmuir Ridge Alliance; Co-Chair, Friends of Parks, Oakland