Ballot measure strategy still undecided in San Leandro

Submitted by News Desk on Tue, 07/08/2008 - 10:00pm

SAN LEANDRO — There is little doubt that come this November, residents here will most likely be voting on a ballot measure. The only question that remains is: Which one?

The City Council, facing a $9 million budget deficit this fiscal year and, like many other cities, further economic uncertainty in the coming years, is considering three potential measures to shield the city from declining revenues: an extension of the utility users tax, a 9-1-1 fee ordinance and a public safety parcel tax.

All three would need two-thirds voter approval, and the council has until Aug. 8 to decide whether to place something on the ballot.

The council is still discussing whether to place one measure or all three before the voters, or to forgo any ballot measure and instead consider alternative ideas, said Jane McCrea, a city spokeswoman.

Whichever way the council goes, McCrea said, it has decided something must be done to ensure city services are sustained.

"We're trying to make sure the sources we're relying on remain (reliable) in the future," she said.

The council is expected to decide on the potential ballot measures at its July 21 meeting.

Since this spring, an ad hoc council committee has been exploring ways to boost revenue without draining the city's reserves. In addition to coming up with several cost-cutting measures for this year's budget to offset the projected deficit, the panel recommended that the council consider placing three tax measures on the ballot.

An extension of the utility users tax, which voters first approved in 1987 and approved again in 2004, would accommodate newer telecommunications services — such as voicemail, text messaging and Voice-Over-Internet Protocol — that aren't covered under the current tax. It already generates about $10 million annually for the city.

The committee also recommended that residents be allowed to vote on whether to make the city's 9-1-1 fee program a special tax. Making the fee — which is still at risk pending litigation related to Union City's 9-1-1 fee — permanent would secure more future revenue for the city, the committee said. The fee now generates about $2 million annually for the city.

While public support in polls has wavered on a public safety tax, several city officials say the measure, which voters rejected in 2004, is needed to boost police services and increase the number of sworn officers on the force, especially because of public outcry about crime in recent months. The parcel tax would generate about $2.7 million for the city, officials say.

But with so many tax measures already expected to be on the November ballot, the city's parcel tax could face some pretty stiff competition.

AC Transit, the East Bay Regional Park District and the San Lorenzo Unified School District will all compete for San Leandro votes this fall. And with the school district's recent decision not to pursue a parcel tax measure this year because of a lack of public support — and Union City's recent failure to pass a public safety tax — some wonder whether the city's parcel tax could see a similar fate.

Regardless, city officials say they hope voters will show their support.

"I believe, personally, that we need to allow the voters to review our past situation and act upon it," Mayor Tony Santos said Monday. "There isn't any question that the more officers you put on the street, the better off you are in preventing crime."

Whatever the council decides to do, it should act fast to build public support, said resident Charles Gilcrest, a political consultant who helped Hayward overwhelmingly pass its $205 million bond measure in June.

"The more you can do before you put it on the ballot," he said, "the easier it will be to pass."

Reach Martin Ricard at 510-293-2480 or