Sunday Commentary: People Gearing Up to Defeat Tax Measure?

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Parks

Last night as I was home and relaxing I got a string of text messages railing against the city’s revenue measure.  It is hard to know what is true versus what is posturing, but I was told that there is already an active opposition committee forming to the new taxes.  And get this, it “will have progressive activists and tax conservatives.”

Can you imagine a group of “progressives” getting together to oppose a tax for parks and roads?  The optics of that figure to be bad for what’s left of the old time progressive movement and it figures to get worse.

This was sent to me originally in response to the column yesterday, regarding the fact that Davis is unsustainable.  As they put it in the text: “read your pro growth article… pushing growing pushing new taxes.”

The taxes themselves are growth neutral.  If anything, you could argue they are anti-growth because they allow the city to maintain current levels of service without growth.  I would argue them to be neutral, but I view them as a stopgap measure rather than a solution in and of themselves.

But to my broader point – and while there was a good discussion yesterday, a lot of people missed the point.  I argued that Davis is not sustainable.  Nobody disputed that.  There were over 50 comments and no one argued, you’re wrong David, Davis can continue on the status quo path.

No.  What people did argue against was my proposed or at least implied remedies. But the central thesis was left unchallenged, which I find intriguing.  But I also find intriguing the fact that no
one proposed an alternative either.  Some people do not want taxes and others do not want growth, but no one was able to connect their position to the issue of sustainability.

Back to my conversation.

One objection: “There is no fixed binding plan for cost reduction and containment. Are we supposed to trust the City to do it later if they get the tax revenue? There’s no plan to have a fixed list of exactly what the city would spend this new revenue on, and, Why don’t you write about these glaring deficiencies in their planning?”

Let’s unpack this because most of this is premature.

First of all, I have written on this numerous times that we need to have a cost-containment plan in place when the city puts the tax measure on the ballot.  Without cost containment, as we know from the past, we simply eat up the revenue gains.  I don’t know what the plan is for the city to do, but that is a potential shortfall of the revenue measure.

Second, they write: “There’s no plan to have a fixed list of exactly what the city would spend this new revenue on…”

This is one you don’t have to worry about, the parcel tax is required to have such a plan.  I will explain in a moment the timing of all this.

Third,  “No mechanism for a citizens committee with teeth to monitor the spending.”

Again, this is a premature complaint.  The school district has the parcel tax oversight body.  I’m not sure how much teeth it actually has, but it would be a good idea for the council to create such a body for this tax as well.  That takes a motion when they put the thing on the ballot.

Finally they say, “Why don’t you write about these glaring deficiencies in their planning?”

Because it is premature to write about them.  The council is not there yet.  Even so, they are ahead of the game.  What they established in December was the framework – they amount of the tax, the type of tax, and roughly what it would fund.

The next step will be for staff to actually write the tax measure.  At such time they will have to create a list of what the revenue will be spent on.  This is the advantage of having the two-thirds tax and why I favor it.

Yes, there is always a chance that the city can move revenue from existing monies and fund it with the parcel tax money and then free up general fund money for other purposes, but this is the best structure and mechanism to ensure that what they say the money is going to get spent on will actually get spent that way.

Will the council address cost containment?  I sure hope so because, as I said, without cost containment, the revenue measure is largely negated.  And I do agree that the council should have an oversight body – which hopefully can be used to ensure that (A) they are spending on what they said they would spend the money, and (B) they are not using the money to backfill current spending to free up money for other purposes.

They ask: “Why are you not calling them out for this gross mismanagement?”

Because I have not seen any gross mismanagement yet.  If they put the tax measure on the ballot and they don’t have certain things in the initiative, then yes, that’s going to be a problem.  But these complaints are at best premature.

They respond: “You haven’t even seen it and already promoting the taxes.”

Then again, the commenters haven’t even seen it and are already calling the city out for gross mismanagement over stuff that they largely are required by law to do.

Here’s the kicker: “Let them fail in June then the CC can spend the summer fixing the process and put on November.”

Are you kidding me?  Fixing the process?  A process that has not proven to be broken and now all of a sudden needs to be fixed.  This is putting the cart before the horse and the reality is that all of this is just pretext to attempt to defeat the tax measure because they know full well that simply opposing a tax for parks and roads is going to look bad.

But here is the other problem that the potential opposition faces – it could be self-defeating to defeat the initiative in June.

The opposition doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as they would normally have here.  First of all, the tax is supposed to fund unmet infrastructure needs for roads and parks.  We’ve been deferring maintenance on this stuff for well over a decade and, while every year we delay funding this stuff the cost goes up in terms of the immediate budget, we can survive another two years.

We need to be spending more money on roads.  We have been spending about four million dollars a year and it should be at least $8 million.  Our parks funding is about one-quarter of what it should be.  And then there are the unfunded liabilities the city will have to budget for at some point.  But none of that really comes due in the next two years, it simply means we continue deferring maintenance and the costs down the line will escalate.

If the tax measure is defeated in June, they don’t come back in November with a new one.  They come back in June 2020 with a tax requiring 50 percent plus one to pass.  It will be much easier to pass.  It will be much harder to defeat.  And the worst part is, it will be a general tax, which means there will be no list and no way to hold the city to spend it as they say they will spend it.

Finally, it will increase pressure on the city to expand economic development as a way to fund basic infrastructure needs.

The most interesting part of the conversation was comments against the homeless tax: “And Robb’s 50 to fund bringing more non clean non sober addicts to our downtown ?? Crazy  ‘Fund them, they will come’. A veritable field of dreams….”

These are progressives making disparaging remarks against the homeless?  That’s certainly not where my value system lies.

So go ahead, defeat the tax.  With a two-thirds requirement, any real organized opposition is likely to be successful but the when they come back in two years with a 50 percent tax and less accountability, don’t say you weren’t warned.  Pennywise and pound foolish, as they say.  Be careful what you wish for, I would add – you might get it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: People Gearing Up to Defeat Tax Measure?”

  1. Chris Franchetti

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I think part of the problem is that for many Davisites, especially those living in Mello Roos areas that have bought their homes within the last 10 years or so, property taxes are already so high they’re approaching unaffordable. A lot of people are paying over 10k a year in property taxes alone (including schools and parks taxes), and so the new federal cap on state tax deductions is worrying people as well.

    1. Howard P

      I fully understand… our property tax basis was set in 1994, with only the small increments since.  We paid off our City MR this year.  It’s now fully manageable.

      [BTW, there are some IRS opinions that MR assessment were never tax-deductible, but they haven’t done much on the enforcement side…]

      You are absolutely correct as to how folk in different situations will view any new taxes differently.  Compound that with school levies where folk like us could take an exemption… [which is a huge flaw in the structure of the school levies!]

      For us, the proposed taxes will still result in lesser assessments than last year (as the City MR is paid off).  No problemo…

      But, for someone buying into the Davis market within the last 10 years, new property assessments/taxes add ‘insult’ to injury… may be a ‘small’ increment, but something about straws and camels’ backs…

      But your words should be weighed heavily… much truth…

  2. Ron

    From article:   It is hard to know what is true versus what is posturing, but I was told that there is already an active opposition committee forming to the new taxes.  And get this, it “will have progressive activists and tax conservatives.”

    It is indeed difficult to know what’s “true” from this article.

    From article:  “The optics of that figure to be bad for what’s left of the old time progressive movement and it figures to get worse.”

    Ageism.

    From article:  ” . . . read your pro growth article… pushing growing pushing new taxes.”

    Not sure of the complete quote or its context, but yeah – megadorms (and conversion of existing commercial sites for residential development) cost the city, in the long run. And ultimately, leads to sprawl due to the resulting lack of commercial sites within the city.

     

     

    1. Don Shor

      And ultimately, leads to sprawl due to the resulting lack of commercial sites within the city.

      The potential sites for commercial annexation have been identified and that process was not related to any housing development. I think this is a misuse of the term sprawl. The three peripheral sites and one in-town site were selected during a long public process of a commission appointed for that purpose. The resulting economic development plan is available for you to read on the city’s website.

      1. Ron

        I was referring to the existing commercial sites within the city, which have been (or are being considered for) conversion from commercial/industrial to residential. Of the larger-sized parcels, this includes the Sterling site, and two sites in South Davis. There is also a smaller parcel, which formerly housed a skilled nursing facility on Pole Line Road.

        Not sure if there are others.

        Also not sure how the Lincoln 40 site is currently zoned. However, Olive Drive already includes businesses, and is adjacent to a freeway.

        Regarding the potential “annexation sites” that you’re referring to, one (Nishi) has completely abandoned commercial development.  The other (MRIC) changed from a commercial site, to one which included housing before it was (temporarily?) withdrawn.

        1. Don Shor

          I was referring to the existing commercial sites within the city

          No you weren’t. You said “leads to sprawl.” That is what I was responding to.
          MRIC is still primarily a commercial proposal.

        2. Ron

          Don:  Not sure how you’re misunderstanding what I wrote:

          “And ultimately, leads to sprawl due to the resulting lack of commercial sites within the city.”

          Assuming there’s a need for commercial development, then yes – the only locations available will be outside of the city, if available sites within the city are used for other purposes.

          1. Don Shor

            I am not misunderstanding you, Ron. You’re just making up another argument against housing development.
            You are misusing the term sprawl.
            The sites outside the city were determined independently of any housing issues.

        3. Ron

          Don:  “You’re just making up another argument against housing development.”

          You’re just engaging in dishonest arguments, and are ignoring the result of what you’re constantly advocating.

          The impact may not be limited to sprawl. There’s an economic impact, as well.

          1. Don Shor

            You’re just engaging in dishonest arguments,

            Please don’t accuse me of dishonesty. You made an unsupportable statement about a connection between housing development in town and sprawl. In point of fact, the housing proposals are densification, which is generally the antithesis of sprawl. And as I have now repeatedly pointed out to you, the process of selecting sites for peripheral economic development was done in public and has no connection to the housing proposals. You’re the one that is tendentiously trying to connect everything to your opposition to high-density housing. I suggest you drop this line of argument, as it is fallacious. Or prove it, if you think you can.

            and are ignoring the result of what you’re constantly advocating.

            Nope. I do my homework, and I am very much aware of the current situation and what needs to be done to address it.
            As discussed on the Vanguard over several years now, we have a dire housing shortage for certain demographics, and we have an unsustainable fiscal situation. Policy proposals to mitigate those problems are challenging. Sometimes they are in conflict. But we need to address both problems.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            It is interesting the use of the term sprawl here. Generally sprawl refers to a low density peripheral subdivision. In this case, some folks are complaining about the conversion of infill/ internal sites that would go to high density housing. That is in fact the opposite of sprawl.

        4. Ron

          Don:  “Please don’t accuse me of dishonesty.”

          Then don’t try to twist what’s stated, above.  That’s an underhanded-way of accusing me of “dishonesty”.

          Don:  “You made an unsupportable statement about a connection between housing development in town and sprawl.”

          Assuming there’s a need for commercial development, then yes – the only locations available will be outside of the city, if available sites within the city are used for other purposes.

          Don:  “And as I have now repeatedly pointed out to you, the process of selecting sites for peripheral economic development was done in public and has no connection to the housing proposals.”

          Some of those sites have disappeared, one (Nishi) is now a housing-only proposal, and the other (MRIC) was changed to include housing, before it was (temporarily?) withdrawn.  None of these have been approved, and cannot be “counted on” to address a “shortage” of commercial space, as commercial sites within the city are converted to residential development.

          Don:  “Nope. I do my homework, and I am very much aware of the current situation and what needs to be done to address it.”

          What you actually do is focus exclusively on one concern, propose an ill-advised solution (while downplaying other solutions), and (purposefully?) ignore the impacts of what you advocate.

           

          1. Don Shor

            Don: “Nope. I do my homework, and I am very much aware of the current situation and what needs to be done to address it.”

            Ron: What you actually do is focus exclusively on one concern, propose an ill-advised solution (while downplaying other solutions), and (purposefully?) ignore the impacts of what you advocate.

            In the years that the Vanguard has been operating (I’ve been here from the start), we’ve had vigorous discussions about economic development (DCIDE, peripheral task force/innovation task force), land conservation, and housing issues. My comments and positions on those topics are all available in the Vanguard archives. They will clearly disprove your comment above.

        5. Ron

          David:  “In this case, some folks are complaining about the conversion of infill/ internal sites that would go to high density housing. That is in fact the opposite of sprawl.”

          Ron:  “Assuming there’s a need for commercial development, then yes – the only locations available will be outside of the city, if available sites within the city are used for other purposes.”

          Yes – it will lead to sprawl. Converting existing commercial sites for residential usage also has an economic impact, ultimately leading to a need for more taxes.

        6. David Greenwald

          Your comment made so little sense, it was not worth a well-thought out response.  You’re in effect throwing crap against the wall, hoping it will stick, and in this case, it just slid right off onto your shoes.

        7. Ron

          David:  “Your comment made so little sense, it was not worth a well-thought out response.  You’re in effect throwing crap against the wall, hoping it will stick, and in this case, it just slid right off onto your shoes.”

          Wow.  I didn’t realize you were becoming so “desperate”, regarding your arguments.  Sorry to see it.  Probably no surprise that communications often become so nasty on the Vanguard, when it comes from the top.

          I agree that it’s not worth arguing the point, when the argument degenerates like this.

      2. Howard P

        Yet, Don, one of the sites proposed (W of 113) went from an innovation center proposal to Sr housing… one of the proposals morphed into a ‘combo’… one was “stillborn”… I don’t consider Nishi ‘peripheral’, but rather infill, although in the County…

        Ironically, I considered Crossroads/Covell Village as “infill”, and the area under the ‘Mace Curve’… both had existing development on two or three sides.  But that’s just me…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s not accurate Howard. The innovation center proposal was north of Sutter Davis hopsital. The Senior Housing proposal is directly north of Covell and west of Sutter Davis hospital. Different parcels.

  3. Ron

    From article:  “Yes, there is always a chance that the city can move revenue from existing monies and fund it with the parcel tax money and then free up general fund money for other purposes, but this is the best structure and mechanism to ensure that what they say the money is going to get spent on will actually get spent that way.”

    There is an internal failure of logic within the sentence, above.

  4. Alan Pryor

     
    I think Davis voters approved the most recent school parcel measure because they know our teachers are underpaid on a comparative and absolute basis. I do not believe that Davis voters have such sympathies for City employees who, on average, earn much more that the average teacher in Davis.
     
    It is projected that the City’s employee pension fund contribution increases will be $7-8 million/year in a few years. This is about the same total amount proposed for various tax measures to be put on the June ballot. I have repeatedly stressed to the City Council in public comments over the past 8 months that cost containment of employee salaries  and (especially) exploding pension obligations is a key to ensuring a successful passage of any tax measure. Otherwise Davis voters will simply see that what they are voting on is actually a employee compensation tax measure in a street and parks tax clothing.
     
    Indeed, Mayor Davis has honestly admitted that some of any increases in parcel taxes resulting from proposed ballot measure will go to increased employee total compensation (mostly increased pension fund obligations) but he has repeatedly stated there is nothing the City can do about these pension cost increases…it is up to Sacramento to solve the problem. That is not completely true.
     
    Others have proposed that our well-paid employees should shoulder most of the burden of these pension cost increases – after all, they are the ones receiving the very high pension payouts on retirement. While increased employee pension payment responsibility would have to be negotiated with City unions, it can be done in the absence of any action by Sacramento toward solving the statewide public pension fund crisis but only if our current City Council had the will to impose this fiscal discipline. I do not believe this Council has that will and I thus do not think any tax measure will be successful.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I think Davis voters approved the most recent school parcel measure because they know our teachers are underpaid on a comparative and absolute basis.”

      I don’t think this is accurate. The most recent school parcel tax measure consolidated existing parcel taxes, updated them to account for inflation and the loss of revenue from a court settlement, and had nothing at all to do with teacher salaries. In fact, we are likely to see a new parcel tax because the last one did not address teacher salaries.

      1. Ron

        David:  “In fact, we are likely to see a new parcel tax because the last one did not address teacher salaries.”

        You should probably clarify this by stating that there may be an attempt to pass another school district parcel tax.  Whether or not it passes is a different matter.

        I’m not sure if even the current round of city parcel taxes will pass. (Not a comment regarding my “personal” preference.)

        1. David Greenwald

          I stated it as I wished to state it.  If you want to “clarify” things from your perspective feel free.  I doubt very much the voters will vote down a school parcel tax that funds the teachers at this point – their work conditions are appalling.  The city parcel tax on the other hand will be more dicey.

  5. Roberta Millstein

    … no one proposed an alternative either.  Some people do not want taxes and others do not want growth, but no one was able to connect their position to the issue of sustainability.

    That’s false. I proposed an alternative,  one that included taxes. Presumably you will say that you think my alternative is not sufficient or not workable, but frankly I don’t think your alternative is achievable or workable either, as I argued yesterday.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      No you didn’t.

      This is what you posted: “A truly sustainable alternative is a slower, more careful growth scenario where we focus on housing where it is most needed (including on-campus housing for UCD students) and fostering smaller-scale commercial development, both of which densify rather than sprawl, together with targeted taxes.”

      I asked what that looks like and you responded: “I have already said how we generate revenue and what we pursue in terms of housing. What we should not do is make false promises and pursue unsustainable growth goals that will generate the same problems we’re trying to solve.”

      I’m sorry I don’t consider that an alternative. It might be workable but unless it’s fleshed out, I can’t evaluate it.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Also are you arguing that Davis is currently sustainable?

          You made two distinct claims in this article.  One was:

          I argued that Davis is not sustainable.  Nobody disputed that.  There were over 50 comments and no one argued, you’re wrong David, Davis can continue on the status quo path.

          I haven’t perused the comments to see if this is true or not, but no, I was not arguing that we can stay on the same path.  We need some growth (I don’t think anyone is actually arguing for no-growth, despite the frequency with which that term is slung around) and, in my opinion, we should have put taxes on the ballot several years ago.  (I have argued for appropriate taxes in the past on the Vanguard).
          Your second claim was:

          …no one proposed an alternative either.

          And that claim, as you have now in essence admitted, was false.  I proposed an alternative.  You might not like my alternative, but I proposed one.  And now perhaps you can see why when you say that you are reporting what your unnamed sources said to you that I am skeptical about your reporting on that topic.  You cannot even fairly report on what was said in black and white on your own blog yesterday.  You conveniently edit the things you don’t agree with or declare them to be not worthy of mention because you decide they are not sufficiently spelled out.
          And you also seem to suffer from that common malady of not being willing to admit when you made a mistake.

  6. Ron

    As a side note, here’s some information regarding how one city (UC Santa Cruz) dealt with some of the financial/non-financial impacts caused by their neighboring UC.  (Note that I still haven’t examined the settlement in detail, nor have I examined the other two settlements involving public universities in California that I’m aware of.)

    “UCSC agrees that under the 2005 LRDP new “average daily trips” (ADTs) to the main campus will be limited to 3,900 and to pay the City approximately $1.5 million (based on a fee of $366/new trip, equal to fee paid by private developers). UCSC will also pay city approximately $420,000 in ADT fees related to Delaware Avenue offices.”

    “The settlement commits UCSC to pay for new ADT at the Marine Sciences campus as ADT generating development is approved at the rate then in effect.”

    “UCSC will limit ADT to the main campus to 28,700 ADTs if it is not prohibited from constucting housing in the North Campus. (Baseline ADTs to the campus total 24,800).”

    “UCSC and city each commit to pay up to $500,000 over a three-year period to implement “transportation improvements that are not included in the City’s current TIF [Traffic Impact Fee] Program.” In addition, each entity will pay $50,000 to plan and implement a public transportation system to reduce auto congestion. UCSC also agrees to discharge the campus’ prior LRDP mitigation obligations by paying its proportional share toward the Mission Street widening project, Empire/Heller signal project, and Bay Street overlay project.”

    http://lrdp.ucsc.edu/settlement-summary.shtml

  7. Ron

    On another related note, what’s Davis doing to “cash in” on the big marijuana sales, starting tomorrow?

    There’s got to be some “local demand”, for this.

    Groovy. (Hey, I remember that from my childhood, at least.)

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