20 local measures on Contra Costa Co. ballot

October 29, 2008 12:21:27 PM PDT
Contra Costa County voters will decide some controversial measures in the Nov. 4 election, including a proposed tax increase for manufacturers in Richmond and a proposed development agreement in Moraga.

In Measure T, a grassroots coalition of Richmond residents has proposed to change the city's business license fee for large manufacturers, namely the Chevron refinery, to .25 percent of the value of the material used in the manufacturing process.

The current business license fee in Richmond charges companies based on the number of people they employ.

If it passes, the measure is expected to bring the city more than $26 million in increased taxes from manufacturing companies. About $16 million of that would come from the Chevron refinery.

Opponents of the bill argue the tax would bankrupt small, locally owned manufacturers and drive other manufacturing businesses out of Richmond. They say well-paying jobs would leave the struggling city and new businesses would decide not to set up shop in Richmond because it would be too expensive.

Proponents of the measure include Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia and representatives of the San Pablo Avenue Merchants Association, the El Sobrante Neighborhood Council and local faith groups.

They argue Chevron, which had $18.7 billion in profits in 2007 and reportedly makes more than $16 million every seven hours, can afford to pay its "fair share."

Owners of Armor Locksmith Service, Galaxy Desserts, California Casting Inc. and Cassandra's Wedding Cakes and Beyond, however, say they wouldn't be able to afford the increased tax and are already struggling to prevent having to lay people off.

The measure requires majority approval.

In Moraga, voters will be deciding between land use measures J and K. Both would increase the area covered by the town's 1986 open space ordinance, but Measure J includes a 25-year development agreement. Measure K, meanwhile, would impose development restrictions on open space areas not currently covered under the town's open space ordinance.

Measure J would allow property owners to build two so-called "single-family executive" homes per acre in a 128-acre area in Bollinger Canyon in exchange for $7 million to build a new community center, new sports fields, a water storage tank and road repairs.

The measure would also designate an additional 515 acres in the Bollinger Canyon, Indian Canyon and Rheem Ridge areas as protected open space.

Measure K, which is endorsed by the local Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Regional Parks Association and many local leaders, would expand the town's open space areas and protect scenic views. The measure would restrict development on the newly designated open space areas to a maximum of one house per 20 acres.

Both measures require majority approval.

Other local measures in the county include school bond measures, parcel tax measures and amendments to city charters.

Measure F is a proposal from the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors for an $108 annual parcel tax to pay for increased police protection in unincorporated East Richmond Heights and Bayo Vista.

No arguments against Measure F have been submitted. The measure requires two-thirds approval.

The city of Concord is asking voters to approve Measure G, which would change the city clerk's position from an elected position to an appointed position. The measure, which has not been opposed, requires a majority vote to pass.

Martinez city officials are asking voters to approve Measure H, a $30-million bond measure to repair, renovate and improve the city's parks, playgrounds and sports fields and to replace Rankin Pool, which is in danger of being closed down by the health department. Measure H, which requires two-thirds voter approval, would mean an additional $90 per year for the average homeowner.

Opponents of the measure, who include County Assessor Gus Kramer, former Mayor John Sparacino and County Treasurer William J. Pollacek, are asking voters to invest in education instead of parks by voting for Measure B, the Martinez Unified School District's proposed parcel tax measure, instead of Measure H.

Measure H also needs two-thirds approval.

Measure L is a proposed amendment to Oakley's business license tax. If it passes, small businesses would pay lower taxes while larger businesses would pay proportionately higher taxes. It requires majority approval.

No arguments against the measure were filed.

Over in Pinole, following the bitter recall of City Council members Maria Alegria and Stephen Tilton in February, Measure N would impose term limits on City Council members.

Under the proposed measure, council members would be allowed to serve a maximum of three consecutive terms. Once a council member was termed out, he or she would be able to serve on the council again after two years had elapsed.

The unopposed measure requires a majority vote to pass.

Voters in San Ramon are being asked to approve two amendments to the city's charter. Measure P would leave it up to the City Council to decide how much the mayor should be paid and Measure Q would synchronize the mayor's term with the council members' terms, a move that could allow the city to hold its municipal elections at the same time as general elections. Measure Q would, however, also allow the council to either extend or shorten the current mayor's term by one year.

Voters in Crockett and Port Costa are being asked to pass Measure R, which would set the annual appropriations limit for the Crockett Community Services District at $2,851,000. Although board members say they have no intention of raising taxes or spending up to the appropriations limit, the unopposed measure must be adopted as a formality for the district to be in compliance with state law.

Voters in Discovery Bay are being asked to approve a similar measure, Measure S, which maintains the annual appropriations limit with a cost of living and population increase to provide lighting and landscaping services through 2012.

Voters in six local school districts will also be voting on school bond and parcel tax measures.

In Measure A, John Swett Unified School District has proposed a $20 million bond measure to renovate and upgrade John Swett High School. The 81-year-old facility has not seen any major renovations since an earthquake damaged the building in the mid-1930s.

No arguments against the measure have been filed. It requires 55 percent approval.

In Measure E, the Acalanes Union High School District has proposed a $93 million bond measure that would be used to upgrade facilities, create a technology fund and build additional classrooms.

In measures B, C and M, all of which require two-thirds approval, Martinez Unified School District, Pittsburg Unified School District and Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, which serves some students in Contra Costa County, are asking voters to approve annual parcel taxes to keep class sizes small, attract and retain quality teachers and maintain programs.

Martinez is asking voters to agree to pay an annual $50 per parcel, Pittsburg is asking for an annual $65 per parcel and Livermore is asking for an annual $138 per parcel.

In Measure D, the West Contra Costa Unified School District is asking voters to renew an existing parcel tax for an additional five years to help improve education in the district. Voters last year rejected a similar measure and opponents of the measure have asked them to do so again.

There are also two measures, VV and WW, which impact voters in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Measure VV is an Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District measure that would increase the existing parcel tax for residents by $4 per parcel per month for 10 years.

The bus agency's board of directors had been considering increasing fares to deal with the agency's large budget deficit, but instead placed the parcel tax hike on the ballot, saying it would bring in an extra $14 million annually.

Supporters, including Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan and Andy Montgomery of the United Seniors of Alameda County, say AC Transit is facing a $19 million cut in state funding and local bus services are at risk.

Without additional funding, proponents of the measure argue that AC Transit can no longer guarantee affordable transportation for seniors, people with disabilities, students and others who rely on bus service.

Merrilie Mitchell, the only person to sign the ballot argument against Measure VV, says, "Proponents fail to state the Measure VV doubles the existing AC Transit tax to $96 a year" and the money that will be raised by the increase is "far more than needed for a one-time budget shortfall."

The measure is on the ballot in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Hayward, Oakland, Piedmont, Richmond, San Leandro, San Pablo and some portions of unincorporated Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Measure WW, which is on the ballot in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, would extend the East Bay Regional Park District's bond to continue restoring urban creeks, protect wildlife and purchase and save open space.

Supporters, including Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Norman La Force, the chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, say the measure is needed to preserve vanishing open space, available parklands and shoreline, and merely extends the existing parks bond measure passed by voters in 1988.

But opponents, including the presidents of the Alameda County and Contra Costa County farm bureaus and a taxpayer group, say, "Amid high food and fuel prices, home-mortgage and property tax defaults and other severed economic hardships, Measure WW perpetuates taxes that would otherwise expire."

Opponents also charge that the park district "want the land of family farmers."

Supporters, however, say the measure allows ranching to continue in the district's parklands and ensures that agriculture remains in the East Bay.


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