Alameda mayor’s opposition to utility tax measure could be costly

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer’s ballot argument against
utility tax measure asserts the same items it will fund
are endangered if it passes in November.

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer is officially opposing a November utility tax measure that, if defeated, could blow a $5 million hole in the city’s treasury.

Spencer was the lone vote against placing the Utility Modernization Act on the ballot earlier this month. Now, she has written the ballot argument in opposition of the measure, which would update the city’s Utility User Tax (UUT) and affirm a roughly $3.5 million annual budget transfer from the island’s energy provider, Alameda Municipal Power.

The ballot measure is needed, the city says, because Alameda’s existing UUT has not been updated since 1970 and does not include modern technologies, namely cellphones. Under the current setup, some Alamedans pay the nominal monthly tax as part of the cellphone package, but depending on the carrier, not everyone is paying equally. In the city’s ballot argument in favor, it says the measure “will not raise your tax rates.”

In addition, a lawsuit against the city arguing the annual budget transfer from Alameda Municipal Power is collected as an illegal tax not formally approved by voters. The city disagrees, but the current ballot measure also aims to avoid such a legal challenge.

But, according to Spencer’s five-point argument, she asserts the measure “expands what is covered by the UUT so that some will pay more taxes,” in fact, up to $240 a month in cellphone charges, she wrote.

The ballot argument ties much of Spencer’s noted antipathy toward public safety labor unions and in the city and pensions. Spencer believes the measure, estimated to collect up to $1.5 million for the general fund is a “blank check” for city employees, some who earn between $200,000 and $400,000 in pay and benefits.

Meanwhile, the argument in favor of the measure claims its passage will buttress future funding for emergency medical response, police and fire services, streets and parks, among other services.

Spencer, though, argues the measure contains “unintended consequences” that could “automatically increase salaries and pension benefits without the possibility of negotiations, instead of going to fund libraries, parks, road maintenance, etc.”

The mayor’s opposition to the measure, however, is only a recent development revealed only after tussling with city staff and council over an insistence earlier this month that she head an emergency Disaster Council.

A short video featured on the city’s website that describes the utility tax and its benefits to the city contains comments from Spencer that appear supportive of the measure and its ability to maintain the way of life Alamedans enjoy. “It does not raise tax rates, but it does expand things that are taxed,” she said in the video.

20 thoughts on “Alameda mayor’s opposition to utility tax measure could be costly

  1. “But, according to Spencer's five-point argument, she asserts the measure “expands what is covered by the UUT so that some will pay more taxes,” in fact, up to $240 a month in cellphone charges, she wrote.”

    That is not true. Please read the ballot statement. It says $240 a *year.* Please correct your story.


  2. So, essentially, the City of Alameda is using our tax dollars to convince us to give them more of our money. Over 150 city employees make between $200,000 to $400,000 a year in salary and benefits and now they want us to open our purses to give them even more? And then these same folks help to finance the political campaigns of council candidates. And this is legal?


  3. By MW:

    Let's especially discuss issues related to paragraphs six, seven, and eight of this article.

    For instance since the city of Alameda evidently has its own fire department, in other words I do not believe that its fire fighting services are provided by the Alameda County Fire Department, therefore all residents and taxpayers located in the city of Alameda should find out whether the Alameda Fire Department is an efficient and ONLY properly paid fire department, or whether it, and just like at least most Bay area fire departments, is basically a collection of fraternity houses of extremely overpaid and totally out of control drunks.

    (NOTE: I am sure many readers have heard the expression “If you get paid for doing what you love, then you will never work a day in your life.” Well, an extremely high percentage of firefighters love to drink, and in many firehouses it is standard procedure not only to tolerate alcoholism and drinking on the job, but also for the alcoholics to protect and cover for each other.)

    And then after twenty or twenty-five years of getting stone drunk virtually every day, and even fighting an occasional fire once in awhile, and being extremely well paid while doing that, the firefighters get to retire extremely early AND ON HUGE PENSIONS.

    Remember that the next time you are asked to vote for a tax increase since the government “desperately needs” the money.

    Also, in the future I will discuss how the culture of drinking and alcoholism in Bay are firehouses probably caused the early improper response that led to the Great Oakland Hills fire, and which resulted in twenty-five deaths and over two thousand houses being destroyed.


  4. By MW:

    In regard to the post of 6:12, in the Bay area the politicians and elected officials, and especially if they are liberals, do not normally pay any attention to the facts and nor to the law. Instead, they almost always just do whatever they want, and regardless of the facts and the law.

    And those Bay area liberal politicians and elected officials who are lawyers have even far more contempt for the facts, the law, and proper procedure than the those who are not lawyers.

    However since the liberals, and extra especially the Bay area version, “know” that they are “right” and that they are “wonderful” and “extremely intelligent” people, and that anyone who disagrees with them is “stupid,” and therefore needs to guided and also protected from their “stupidity,” therefore liberals also “know” that it is best for everyone that if necessary liberals lie, deceive, cover up the truth, and break the law if that is what required to get their schemes approved.

    (Ask Nancy Pelosi and Jonathan Gruber for more details.)


  5. The City is prohibited from creating and distributing material for or against a ballot issue. They are only allowed to produce neutral information. The fact that so many perceive the video and its contents as being for the measure – including the mayor's statement — calls into question whether laws have been broken and public money misused.


  6. By MW:

    In regard to the post of 8:32:

    First of all, I am absolutely one hundred percent certain that all of the politicians involved, and regardless of whether they are for the tax or against the tax, or liberals or conservatives, or left wing or right wing, or Democrats or Republicans, are totally sincere and acting in what they truly believe are the best interests of the general public, and therefor none of them are engaging in smokescreens or duplicity.

    And as far as Trish Spencer possibly having ulterior motives for her supposedly being against the new proposed tax, since she is a Bay area liberal, and which is the most wonderful and honest creature of all time (ask Nancy Pelosi for details), therefore it should be illegal to even question or doubt Trish Spender's honesty, integrity, or motives.

    In fact, all public meetings should start with all attendess reciting the following: “I pledge allegiance to the Bay area's scumbag liberal politicians and to the sleazy scams to which they are constantly attempting to perpetrate…”


  7. The BRI is nothing new. Mr. Russo negotiated that into City employee contracts. It was negotiated into the current contracts. Mayor Spencer knew about the BRI when she made the video. And the UMA is not a new tax. It's a tax that is being applied unequally. These issues are just smoke screens. If, in fact, the Mayor is against the UMA just because she didn't picked to be on the Disaster Council then that's childish and proves she is not qualified to be Mayor. I would go as far as to say voting against the UMA is fiscally irresponsible and she should be recalled.


  8. 20+ years ago, one could hear talk of increasing government revenue, reducing government spending, or improving efficiencies.

    Talk of “efficiencies” has quietly been dropped.


  9. By MW:

    While I do not live in the city of Alameda (but I do live in the East Bay, and in fact in Alameda County), however from everything I have seen in regard to government over my many years, and I am a senior citizen, it is more than extremely rare that government needs more money so as to properly do its job.

    Instead, in virtually all instances government needs to be more efficient and to stop wasting the money it is already collecting. And that is almost certainly true in the city of Alameda, and regardless of how many “studies” and “investigations” any “experts” do definitely “proving” that Alameda's government is “efficient” and/or “needs” more money so as to properly do its job.

    In fact government in the Bay area is even far more inefficient and far more corrupt than government in general, and as far as the present scandal involving such characters as Celeste Guap, the only thing unusual about it is that it finally became public, and rather than remaining totally covered up and going on completely unrestricted forever, and instead of only for a number of years.

    Of course if not for the suicide of an Oakland police officer and the previous so called “suicide” of his wife, and although actually she was probably murdered, and as part of an attempt to keep a lid on the scandal, it probably would have gone on forever, and with Bay area law enforcement agencies continuing to engage in their expensive PR of doing “sting” operations in which the biggest fish were warned in advance of when and where a bust was coming.

    And when it comes to engaging in elaborate scripted, prearranged, choreographed, and very expensive “investigations” so as to cover up the truth, the Alameda County DA's office is among the very “best.” AND THAT IS OUR GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY.


  10. The video was posted to YouTube on June 28th, which means it was shot well before the July 5th vote on measure. Probably before the July 5th meeting packet with details was prepared.

    Perhaps the new information she received was contained in that July 5th packet, and is reflected in her ballot statement – potential increase in the BRI, etc.


  11. No, her ballot statement urges voters to carefully review the measure before voting. Her statement is being published as the “arguments against” the measure. Most would consider that a “no” vote, but if that's not clear enough, she also voted “no” to putting it on the ballot in the first place (July 5 City Council Meeting).

    If the Mayor can come out and express that she is in support of the UUT then I'll rescind my comments and publicly apologize to her by video. But beware, I might change my mind after the video posts and decide to post a letter urging the readers to carefully consider all her other well-thought out comments and decisions, starting with her swearing in as Mayor (twice)…


  12. I don't see where in the Mayor's ballot statement she urges voters to vote “no” on the measure.

    Do you?


  13. I despise tax increases and bridge tolls too, however, I think the focus of the story is that the Mayor is crying foul because she didn’t get her way with the Disaster Council. I don’t have any qualms with the fact that she is voicing her opposition to the measure; I do have grave concern with the fact that the video clearly shows her in support of the UUT and now, she is writing the ballot argument AGAINST the measure. Why? What new information did she receive that caused her to not only change her mind, but be so vehemently against it? None. She just didn’t get to sit on the Disaster Council…
    It bothers me enough that the Mayor is an airhead; but these current shenanigans reveal something else: revenge and retaliation. Why do we teach are children that revenge and retaliation are bad, but allow the Mayor to behave in such a childish, immature, and harming way?


  14. By MW:

    First of all, would this measure if approved be only a “temporary” tax?

    A number of years ago I was at a seminar, and the person conducting the seminar made the comment: “THE MOST PERMANENT THING ON EARTH IS A TEMPORARY TAX.”

    The tolls on the Bay area's major bridges are an excellent illustration of that. For instance when the bridges were being built, the politicians absolutely insisted and vehemently promised that the tolls, and which at the beginning were only about ten cents or so, would only be for two years AND THEN THE BRIDGES WOULD BE TOTALLY FREE FOREVER AFTER.

    However at the end of the two years they decided they needed an “emergency” just “one time” extension “for just one more year.” And then they, and of course, had just “one more” just “one time” extension, and again and AGAIN AND AGAIN.

    So if we want to be cynical about it, we could say some of those bridges are now on about their sixtieth or seventieth “just one time” emergency extensions.

    And of course the bridge tolls have also drastically increased from their original five, ten, or fifteen cents to now serious money. In fact, does anybody know of even one major Bay area bridge that does not now have a tax (well, to make it sound better they call it a toll rather than a tax) of at least five dollars.


  15. AMP ratepayer money should be used to maintain AMP facilities. It should not be automatically transferred to the city's general fund for pay and benefits. The City should not be increasing taxes during a time when many Alamedans are struggling to pay for basic necessities.


  16. The City should not be using public funds to campaign for the measure. The clear intent of the video is to persuade the public to pass the measure.


  17. All city staff presentations have been clear that the intent of the modification to the UUT is to capture some $1.5 million of “lost” tax revenue.

    Sounds like a tax increase.


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