Tonight’s Council Meeting: Mills Act, Solar Financing, Stimulus Update, and Legislative Agendas

8 Dec

Tonight’s Council meeting will cover a large array of issues, some of which I’ve described below.

Item 14.1: Eleven Mills Act Contract

Ignacio De La Fuente has forged an uncommon alliance with historic preservationists to propose the approval of eleven properties under the Mills Act two-year pilot program and the expansion of the Mills Act. Via the staff report: “The Mills Act Program is a preservation incentive adopted by California in 1976 that allows reductions of property tax assessments for historic properties if the owner signs an agreement with the local government to preserve and maintain the historic characteristics of the property.”

This item was heard at the Community and Economic Development Committee last week and the approval of the eleven residential properties was not contentious. CEDA staff showed a slide show of these properties, which are located throughout Oakland, and they all were characterized by charming era-specific architecture.

The more contentious part of this item is the expansion of the Mills Act. The proposal is to make the program permanent and to allow larger, commercial properties to take advantage of the program. Two commercial properties applied under the pilot program but because of their size and value, the potential decrease of tax revenue was too high to qualify under the program. Staff argued at the hearing that even though property tax would be lowered for these properties, the increased tax revenue due to rehabilitation would be much higher and would lead to a net increase in tax revenue.

Jane Brunner, in particular, was very concerned about the potential costs to the City, even though the staff report and staffers at the meeting made it abundantly clear that the maximum the City would spend each year from the general fund on a set of Mills Act contracts is $25,000 and $250,000 from redevelopment funds, and that in the past two years the City has spent far less than this maximum. So staff went back and created several charts projecting potential losses and gains to the City, and these charts show the potential for large revenue gains from the commercial buildings. Historic preservationists will be at the meeting tonight to advocate for the Mills Act, and now that Brunner has the numbers she asked for, it seems likely that the Council will vote to expand the program.

Item 14.7: Solar Financing Program Options (Report & Supplemental Report)

You might remember that last year Berkeley launched a solar financing program that is actually pretty innovative and has been very popular since its launch. From the staff report: “BerkeleyFIRST enables property owners to borrow money from the Sustainable Energy Financing District to install solar photovoltaic electric systems, with the cost to be repaid over 20 years through a special tax on their property tax bills.” What this means is that a property owner pays almost nothing upfront and spreads the cost throughout many years, but with the reduction of energy bills due to the solar energy that is captured, most owners see an overall net financial gain.

The state legislature liked Berkeley’s idea so much that it developed a statewide solar financing program called CaliforniaFIRST. Staff initially came to the Public Works Committee in May to ask that Oakland enroll in this program, but at the time, many details were not yet available so staff returned last week with further information and the committee showed enthusiastic support for the program. Desley Brooks even said she wanted to participate in the program. If the Council passes this item tonight, a pilot phase of the program will start in June 2010 so if you’re a property owner who’s considering installing solar panels, now would be a good time to start thinking more seriously about it. Oh, and if you’re concerned about this blowing a hole in the City’s budget, you need not worry – the most the City will spend is $20,000 for program set-up fees. The rest is covered by CaliforniaFIRST.

Item 17: Status of Oakland’s Grant Awards (ARRA) (Report & Supplemental Report)

At the last Council meeting, on November 17th, there was a lot of discussion about how well Oakland has done on its stimulus grant applications. Desley Brooks, in particular, argued that our grant applications have not been competitive because they haven’t been specific. She and others asked to hear more about how we’ve compared to other cities on stimulus grants.

According to the staff report, we’ve apparently done incredibly well. The report compares our stimulus grants to those received by other Bay Area cities, California cities of similar sizes, and other cities throughout the country. Besides Chicago, which is much, much bigger than Oakland, we’ve done better than every other city in terms of both the number of competitive grants received and the total amount of money received. Oakland received seven grants, totaling nearly $27.5 million, while, for example, Long Beach received three grants totaling $5.7 million and San Francisco received 3 grants totaling $17.7 million.

I’m sure Mayor Dellums will be touting this success as proof that all of his expensive trips to DC have been worthwhile. Will the Council be satisfied by this report? We’ll find out tonight.

Items 17.2 & 17.3: 2010 Federal Legislative Agenda & State Legislative Agenda

The Council will be reviewing and approving the City’s federal and state legislative agendas for next year. The agendas include specific policy and funding proposals as well as more general concepts. From the federal agenda staff report:

The strategic agenda includes advocating for legislation, regulations, and funding that are consistent with the City’s adopted goals; Public Safety, Sustainable and Healthy Environment, Economic Development, Community Involvement and Empowerment, Public-Private Partnerships, and Government Solvency and Transparency. As the year progresses, the Federal Government Affairs Team will work to identify legislation and funding opportunities that address these priorities.

Most of what’s in the legislative agendas is not surprising. In the federal legislative agenda, for example, is funding for Compstat, and I imagine that’s been in the legislative agenda for many years. But there are some new ideas, including an idea that Rebecca Kaplan brought up at the November budget workshop, that’s included in the state legislative agenda:

Utilize Technology for Parking Violations. In an effort to leverage dwindling resources, enhance the cleanliness and attractiveness of commercial corridors throughout Oakland, and keep City streets clean while reducing the amount of litter and pollutants going into Lake Merritt and the Bay, the City is interesting in researching the usage of technology, namely cameras on the outside of street sweepers and possibly buses, to issue parking tickets for illegally parked cars. Cities like San Francisco and Washington DC have the authority to use this technology. The goal of this legislation is to give Oakland and other jurisdictions the authority to use cameras to issue citations for street sweeping violations and other parking violations.

Both the federal and state legislative agendas are short and very easy to read. There’s no way I could cover everything in them here, but I highly recommend reading these documents.

The Rest of the Agenda…

Among other items, the rest of the agenda includes extending the eminent domain authority under the Coliseum Redevelopment Plan, increasing the fee for residential parking permits, approving a contract with an independent monitor for the police department under the negotiated settlement agreement, and hearing updates on several specific stimulus projects. Watch the Council meeting tonight to see what happens. And if you can’t watch the meeting but want to follow what happens, you can follow via #oakmtg on Twitter.

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One Response to “Tonight’s Council Meeting: Mills Act, Solar Financing, Stimulus Update, and Legislative Agendas”

  1. Naomi Schiff December 9, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    Thanks to all who supported the Mills Act projects and the new legislation making the program permanent and extending it to commercial properties! If you know anyone who has downtown historic properties that might be able to make use of the program, they should contact Planning Dept. for detailed information. I’m hoping this program gets used! Thanks again, and thanks Becks for covering the council highlights!

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