It’s been a bit hard to focus on writing this blog post this week, but no matter what happens with Occupy Oakland, the mail in election will still continue happening and votes will be cast, so I thought it was important to share my endorsements.
Before I share my opinions though, there are two important things to remember about this election:
- This election is solely vote by mail, which means you cannot vote at your regular polling place on election day.
- The deadline for mailing your ballot is not the usual election day (the 2nd Tuesday of November) – it’s on November 15th. Your ballot must be received by November 15th so to be safe, I would mail it in several days before that deadline. You can also walk your ballot into the Registrar of Voters Office anytime until 5pm on Tuesday, November 15th.
If you’re having trouble finding your ballot in your stack of junk mail, here’s what it looks like:
And now, to the endorsements. I apologize that I didn’t write more in my own words. I could write plenty about each of these measures, but I’m incredibly exhausted today, as it’s been difficult to sleep when I’ve fallen asleep and woken up to helicopters several days in a row. So the words of others will have to suffice for now.
Measure H – No, No, No!
This measure would change Oakland’s city attorney position from an elected one to an appointed one. If Measure H passes, it would give the City Council the authority to appoint someone to be city attorney and to remove him/her at their will. The Oakland Tribune calls this measure the “John Russo ordinance,” which is apt as it stems from the clashes the Council and Mayor had with Russo over his legal opinions when he was city attorney.
I recommend reading the Tribune’s full endorsement, but their conclusion encapsulates much of the reasoning behind my opposition to this measure:
The last thing the public needs in the office is a political crony who will rubber stamp council policies.
Supporters argue that only 2.5 percent of California cities have elected city attorneys. That may be true. However, in 80 percent of cities Oakland’s size and larger, the voters choose the city attorney.
The council appointed Russo’s deputy, Barbara Parker, to complete the remainder of his term, which expires in December 2012.
After that, residents should elect the next city attorney.
As we have previously stated previously, voters should not tolerate this naked power grab.
Measure I – No
Up until this Tuesday, I was still undecided on Measure I, the parcel tax. I’ve never been so torn on a ballot initiative. Actually, except when I didn’t understand a measure, I can’t remember ever taking more than a week to figure out my position. I’ve also voted yes on every parcel tax that’s ever been on the ballot. I firmly believe that our government needs sufficient revenue to continue providing services to our community.
But for the past couple of months I’ve been debating myself over whether this parcel tax makes sense or not. And if I had written this blog post as planned on Tuesday morning, I would have issued a “no position” endorsement on this measure because I still didn’t know how I would be voting. But the police reaction to Occupy Oakland on Tuesday refocused me and made me think deeply about the future of our city. As I lay in bed Tuesday night, listening to helicopters overhead, I realized that a no vote on Measure I is the best vote for Oakland’s future.
My reasoning might not be what you expect. I still believe that our city will at some point need more revenue, and this parcel tax, which generates just $11 million per year is a band-aid solution that could hire us a few more police officers and other employees. In the long-term though, it won’t be worth it because if this measure passes and the city still fails to provide adequate services to its residents (which I think is what will happen), voters will be very unlikely to approve future taxes, ones that could be much better planned and effective than this one.
Oakland voters have already soured on parcel taxes, voting the last two down. At this point, the Mayor and the Council need to focus on better managing the city and its budget, which could prove to the voters that they would manage parcel tax revenues wisely.
If you’re fiscally conservative, voting no on this is obvious, but if you’re progressive, voting no is still the right thing to do if you ever hope for Oakland voters to approve future parcel taxes that are better defined and produce enough revenue to have a significant impact on the services the City is able to provide.
Measure J – Yes
Measure J would extend the full-funding deadline for the closed Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) past the current deadline of 2026. From the League of Women Voters’ description:
Measure J would allow the full-funding deadline of 2026 to be changed if both the PFRS Board and the City approve, and if the new deadline is based on and supported by an actuarial study commissioned by the board. This would not change the city’s obligation, but could allow the city to lessen its yearly payments by spreading them out past 2026.
Beginning ten years from the full-funding deadline, Measure J also requires the PFRS Board to amortize each year’s gains and losses to protect the city from market volatility. Such smoothing, as it is called, would not change the overall payment obligation, but would help the city avoid large changes in annual payments from year to year.
Why am I voting yes? I’ll leave that to the words of Libby Schaaf, Jim Blachman and Jay Ashford in the Oakland Tribune:
Like many cities, Oakland’s mounting pension costs and unfunded liabilities are threatening our ability to deliver the most basic city services.
Past commitments to generous pensions for retired city workers are overwhelming our ability to pay them and still fund current services like police, fire, public works, libraries and parks. California law severely limits the city’s ability to change these costs and prohibits us from modifying any past commitments.
Oakland’s Police and Fire Retirement System — PFRS — has been closed to new hires since 1976, but still pays benefits to about 1,000 retirees. Because this retirement account is not fully funded, the city must pay the PFRS fund almost $46 million every year until 2026.
Measure J would reduce the strain on Oakland’s budget by trimming $4 million from the annual $46 million payment, in exchange for a modest deadline extension of two years.
Oakland’s PFRS obligation is not a loan, so the two-year extension under Measure J would not add interest charges. An analogy would be like giving yourself two more years to reach a savings goal…
Extending the PFRS deadline would not increase or extend any taxes or add any debt to the budget.
This modest adjustment would reduce the strain of Oakland’s annual pension payments by $4 million a year, enabling us to redirect that funding toward pressing matters like hiring more police.
If you’re looking for factual information about these measures, I recommend reading the Oakland League of Women Voters’ pros and cons.
And please feel free to agree, disagree or ask questions in the comments, but I ask that you be respectful as some of the discussion about the initiatives I’ve seen on other websites have been filled with attacks.