Voters' Guide to Berkeley Measures HH and JJ

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday October 21, 2008 - 04:35:00 PM

MEASURE HH City Expenditures 

Shall the appropriation limit under Article XIIIB of the California Constitution (or ceiling on city expenditures) be increased to allow for the expenditure of taxes previously approved by voters for parks maintenance; libraries; emergency medical services (EMS); and emergency services for severely disabled persons for fiscal years 2009 through 2012? 

Majority Approval Required 

City of Berkeley Measure HH is a product of the so-called Gann Initiative, the Constitution amendment originally passed by California voters as Proposition 4 in 1979 during the Prop 13 tax revolt era. 

Under these measures, California cities may raise property taxes for specific city projects through a two-thirds majority vote of its citizens. But in order to maintain those raised taxes, the cities are required to have them renewed by a majority vote of city residents every four years. In separate ballot measures between 1988 and 1998, Berkeley residents voted by two-thirds majority to raise city property taxes for libraries, city parks (1997), emergency medical services (1997), and emergency services for severely disabled persons. Rather than having separate ballot measures to renew each of these tax increases, the City of Berkeley has combined the four projects into one renewal measure. That's what Berkeley voters will be voting on in Measure HH. If approved, the raised tax revenue will continue to be in existence through 2012. 

The measure has drawn some hyperbole from proponents. 

In their ballot argument in favor of Measure HH, Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore, Berkeley Library Trustees Chair Therese Powell, Center for Independent Living Executive Director Jan Garrett, and City of Berkeley Disaster & Fire Safety Commission Chair Zachary Weiner all argue that “if Measure HH does not pass, the City will lose tens of millions of dollars in already approved tax revenue-forcing dramatic reductions in city services.” And in the companion rebuttal argument to the argument against HH, Bates, Powell, Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak, and North Berkeley Hills resident Barbara Allen calls the anti-HH campaign a “backdoor attempt to subvert the will of the voters,” adding that “the opponents of Measure HH do not accept the will of an overwhelming majority of Berkeley voters and are now attempting to overturn their decisions by denying the reauthorization of these voter-approved revenues” (emphasis in original). 

Both of these arguments are a little disingenuous. 

While rejection of Measure HH would mean a reduction in some level of city services (opponents put the amount at $25 million while proponents say it amounts to “tens of millions of dollars”), it is not true that this will mean a reduction in “already approved tax revenue.” The various measures by which Berkeley voters approved the original property tax increases were done so only for a specified time period, with the understanding that voters would be able to come back when the time period expired to approve or disapprove renewal. The time period of the original measures has expired. And since that is the case, opposition to Measure HH cannot properly be called a “subversion of the will of the voters” or an attempt to “overturn” previous decisions by voters, since Berkeley voters earlier expressed their will on the property tax increases under ballot language that specifically said that such re-evaluation would later come back to them. 

Prop HH opponents (which include Berkeley Alliance of Neighborhood Associations President Marie Bowman, Council of Neighborhood Associations Laurie Bright, Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association President Dean Metzger, Le Conte Neighborhood Association President Karl Reeh, Oregon Street Neighborhood Watch member Betty Hicks, CAN Vice-President David Krasnor, former Housing Advisory Commission Chair Gregory Harper, Blake and California streets neighborhood activist Robert Baum, and Berkeley Property Owners Association President James Kilpatrick), do not argue that the city services to be supported by Measure HH (parks maintenance, libraries, emergency medical services (EMS), and emergency services for severely disabled persons) are bad services that should be eliminated. Instead, the opponents are arguing that the City of Berkeley has essentially engaged in a “bait-and-switch” operation over the years. 

“Yes, we approved these taxes in the past,” the ballot argument against Measure HH reads, “but we were deceived. We thought we could get improved streets, parks, EMT and other services. Instead, what the City did, was for every penny we added as additional taxes, the City took away City funding. SO the amount of funding for these essential services has not increased. This is why, although we are paying for more taxes, we don't receive better services. Council has used our regular tax dollars to pay for pet projects, and then asked us to pay for essential services.” 

Opponents conclude that “it's time to tell the City to prioritize essential services.” 

It would seem that this is the heart of the battle over Measure HH, and how voters can make their decision. 

For those who believe that the Measure HH services (parks maintenance, libraries, emergency medical services (EMS) are overfunded, not important, or not as important as other city services, the decision is easy. Vote no on Measure HH, and funding for those services will be reduced. 

For those who think the Measure HH services are some of the most important in the city--and also think that Berkeley's tax rates are within reason--the decision is also easy. Vote yes on Measure HH, and both the funding for the HH measures and Berkeley's current property tax rate will remain the same. 

For those who support the Measure HH services, but believe the opponents' “bait-and-switch” argument, the decision is more difficult. Those voters will have to gamble that if Measure HH is voted down, City Council continue to support the Measure HH services at something near their present level by making cuts in other parts of the city budget, either voluntarily or under pressure from Berkeley citizens. 

MEASURE JJ Medical Marijuana 

Shall the City's ordinances be amended to eliminate limits on medical marijuana possessed by patients or caregivers; establish a peer review group for medical marijuana collectives to police themselves; and permit medical marijuana dispensaries as a matter of right under the zoning ordinance rather than through a use permit subject to a public hearing? 

Majority Approval Required 

If Measure JJ looks awfully familiar to Berkeley voters, there's a good reason. The issue originally appeared on the November, 2004 ballot as Measure R, with Alameda County declaring the measure a loser by 191 votes out of more than 50,000 cast. Measure R proponents filed a lawsuit charging that the ballots were improperly tallied by the old Diebold electronic voting machines. But in large part because the machines were returned to Diebold and erased, thus making it impossible to verify if the count had been accurate, a Superior Court judge ordered the measure put back on the ballot for this November. 

So here we are again. 

Measure JJ adjusts the laws governing legal medical marijuana growing and dispensation in Berkeley in several ways.  

To help the city regulate existing medical marijuana dispensaries and to try to ensure that new dispensaries have a proper management and safety plan, Measure JJ proposes establishing something called a Peer Review Committee for such purposes. The Peer Review Committee will consist of appointed representatives of the marijuana dispensaries themselves, and will have no enforcement powers, only the power to make referrals back to city officials. While this would not eliminate the Berkeley Police Department from the regulation and law enforcement process, it would appear to serve to put the police in more of a criminal law enforcement mode with regard to the dispensaries, rather than the city's first line of regulation. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to voters to decide. 

The measure would raise the amount of marijuana that a single medical marijuana user could keep or grow in the City of Berkeley, as well as limiting the amount in the possession of a dispensary itself, substituting a statutory quantity for “a reasonable quantity of dried cannabis and cannabis plants to meet the medical needs of patient members.” If Berkeley residents who use marijuana for medical purposes need more marijuana than is called for in the present Berkeley ordinance, the raised amounts in the new ordinance would serve to reduce the amount of illegal marijuana bought by legal users in Berkeley. On the other hand, if the medical marijuana need is actually less than the newly proposed amounts, the excess will probably make its way onto the illegal market. Again, voters have to decide which is the best way to go. 

Probably the most significant change proposed by Measure JJ would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open in the City of Berkeley “as a right” with the status of a retail sales outlet in locations zoned for that purpose, rather than having to apply for a use permit under the current process . Medical marijuana advocates will say that the current ordinance allows the city--intentionally or unintentionally--to freeze the number of dispensaries in the city, eliminating a legal and medically necessary treatment for some residents. Opponents will say that eliminating the need for a use permit--which can only be granted after a public hearing--also eliminates any say residents might have in keeping medical marijuana dispensaries out of their particular neighborhood. Again, Berkeley voters will have to decide which right is the more important. 

The ballot argument in favor of Measure JJ was signed, in part, by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson. 

No argument against Measure JJ was submitted.