Oakland City Council votes to hold off for now on collecting Measure AA parcel tax

Oakland Mayor LIbby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Assemblymember Rob Bonta were big supporters of Oakland's Measure AA early education initiative.

Fearing Oakland voters will become further disillusioned with their city government and uncertainty over a legal fight that could determine the fate of last November’s controversial Measure AA result at the ballot box, the Oakland City Council decided late Tuesday night against collecting the $198 parcel tax, at least, for this year.

Measure AA, was a voter-initiated ballot measure last November that proposed a $198 parcel tax to fund early education programs in Oakland. More than 62 percent of voters backed the initiative. But prior to the election, ballot information given to voters said the tax measure required a two-thirds majority for passage.

But last December, despite Measure AA’s apparent defeat, the Oakland City Council voted to certify the election and direct the city administration to validate the result.

Following a lawsuit against the city filed by well-known housing consultant Greg McConnell, the Oakland City Council voted in closed session April 2 to refrain from collecting the parcel tax.

Supporters for collecting the tax cite a recent state Supreme Court ruling that ballot initiatives, such as Measure AA, which gained inclusion on the ballot through a signature-gathering campaign, require a simple majority of support.

Opponents question whether the petition to qualify for the ballot was truly driven by voter since the measure was largely facilitated and funded by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s campaign

Any decision by the courts on Measure AA’s efficacy could take up to 2-3 years before being determined. Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, instead, urged for the council to monitor the case in the courts over the next year while also eyeing a potential do-over of the ballot measure campaign in time for the March 2020 primary election, at the earliest. “We can get certainty on the money much sooner than an outcome of the lawsuit,” Kaplan said of the potential parcel tax measure redux.

A majority of the council agreed. The vote was 5-2, with Councilmembers Larry Reid and Dan Kalb voting against. Councilmember Lynette McElhaney remains on bereavement leave.

Kalb urged the council to begin assessing the parcel tax and place its proceeds in escrow until the courts decide the measure’s fate. Schaaf had advocated for the same plan, as did Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who addressed the council Tuesday night. The appearance only underscores the importance of the measure to Schaaf and supporters of education in Oakland.

Schaaf was rankled by Tuesday night’s vote. “The Council’s decision to forever forfeit $30 million in taxes approved by 62 percent of the voters only hurts children and families from Oakland’s most underserved neighborhoods,” she said. “As this issue continues to move through the courts, the Council sent a devastating message to working families in Oakland tonight: Their kids’ education is not worth fighting for.”

Beginning the process of collecting a parcel tax that many Oakland voters believed failed to reach the requisite two-thirds majority for passage risks alienating already disenchanted voters, said Councilmember Sheng Thao. “It will only widen this distrust.” Thao also questioned how the city will be able to return the tax in a timely manner if the courts rule against Measure AA. What if residents move away in the next few years, she asked? How will they be reimbursed?

On the campaign front, the effort behind Measure AA has been deemed by many to be an enormous disappointment, especially in light of its $2 million campaign budget, an amount extremely high for a local tax measure in the East Bay.

Kaplan noted Tuesday night that failing to reach a two-third majority on a tax-generating measure is somewhat difficult in a city like Oakland that has shown a great willingness over the past decade to raise taxes on itself. Kaplan estimated the two-thirds threshold has been cleared in Oakland 20 times over the past decade.

Get all the stakeholders together, McConnell told the council Tuesday night, and figure out a strategy to place a measure for early education on the ballot that can pass with a two-thirds majority. “Talk to us,” said McConnell, who filed the lawsuit against collecting the tax, “but don’t just tell us we’re going to change the rules of the game.”

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