Analysis of Regional Ballot Measures

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 25, 2008 - 09:49:00 AM

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District Special Tax Measure VV  

To preserve affordable local public transportation that allows seniors and people with disabilities to remain independent, takes students to and from school, provides transportation alternatives given skyrocketing gas prices, helps residents commute to work and reduces traffic and greenhouse gas emissions by getting cars off the road, shall the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) increase its existing parcel tax by $4 per parcel, per month for 10 years with independent oversight and all money staying local? (2/3 vote required for passage). 

Regardless of where one stands on the Van Hool or the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) controversies, there are two things which Alameda and Contra Costa County residents can generally agree on regarding the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District. The first is that a financially stable bus system is critical to the economic health and the public welfare of the two counties. The second is that in order to remain financially stable, including keeping up with rising gasoline prices and employee health care costs, AC Transit must have an increased flow of revenue.  

With yearly operating expenses rising at four times the rate of revenue in the past three years, AC Transit staff says they are not in danger of missing their revenue projections for this year, but are worried about the next few years. With no chance of increased funds coming from the state, that extra revenue must come from Alameda and Contra Costa county residents. 

Earlier this year, staff and the AC Transit board flirted briefly with the idea of a 25-cent adult bus fare increase, along with increases in passes and youth, senior, and disabled fares. But with board elections coming up in November and the public urging the district to find another way to raise money besides “on the backs of the bus riders,” the district opted instead for a parcel tax. The increased tax generated by passage of Measure VV would generate $48 million a year for AC Transit. 

District officials cautioned, however, that the parcel tax does not take a possible fare increase off the table, and said they would revisit the issue of a proposed fare increase at the beginning of next year. 

Measure VV would create a new $48 per year tax on all real estate parcels in most of Alameda County (don’t be confused by the $4 in the ballot language; as you can see, that refers to the monthly rate). Measure VV also extends the lifetime of the existing AC Transit parcel taxes for six more years (Measure AA passed in 2002, Measure BB passed in 2004), making the entire price tag for all AC Transit parcel taxes $96 per year through June of 2019. 

Voters will probably be considering two issues in the Measure VV vote. The first will be, is the operation of a public bus system in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties worth the added tax hit mandated by the measure? Second, are the various recent charges surround AC Transit management (written up in a series of articles in the Berkeley Daily Planet and the East Bay Express) so serious and so believable that those issues should be cleared up before the district asks the public for any more money? AC Transit is betting yes on the first, and no on the second. 


East Bay Regional Park District Measure WW—Extend Existing East Bay Regional Park District Bond with No Increase in Tax Rate 

To continue restoring urban creeks, protect wildlife, purchase/save open space, wetlands/ shoreline, acquire/ develop/ improve local and regional parks, trails and recreational facilities, shall East Bay Regional Park District be authorized to issue up to $500 million in general obligation bonds, provided repayment projections, verified by independent auditors, demonstrate that property tax rates will not increase beyond present rates of $10 per year, per $100,000 of assessed valuation? (2/3 vote required for passage). 

This is an extension of the $225 million Measure AA parks bond passed by area voters in 1988. In a presentation before the Berkeley City Council this week, current East Bay Regional Park District Board Member Nancy Skinner (now the Democratic nominee for the District 14 State Assembly seat) told councilmembers that the proposed tax measure would not increase existing tax rates, but would continue the $10 per parcel rate per $100,000 evaluation currently in effect for the district. Skinner said that $375 million of the expected $500 million to be raised by Measure WW, if passed, would go for park district capital projects, as well as acquisition of additional open space parcels in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.  

District documents anticipate the new money will lead to the acquisition of 34,000 new acres, with 100 miles of new hiking trails. The remaining $125 million of the bond will be spread around to various city and regional parks projects, including $4.9 million earmarked for the City of Berkeley. With the price tag so low, area support for open space so high, and an increasing need for a nearby break from urban pressures, the measure seems as much of a lock as anything on the ballot. In a year of political controversy, Measure WW appears to be one of the few issues that is not generating any opposition.