Oakland considers hotel tax increase

March 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Oakland could become among the most expensive cities in the bay area to rent a hotel room.

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Monday night, the city council talked about raising the hotel tax, and asked voters to say yes to a ballot measure to make that happen. The city is trying to close a $50 million deficit.

In these tough economic times, the city of Oakland is looking to tap into an unlikely source to keep cultural institutions like the Oakland Zoo from having to dig out of a financial hole - hotels, and the tourists who stay in them.

"It will allow us to get some regional funds for what are really regional institutions," said Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan.

Quan proposed a three percent hotel tax hike. Monday night, the council was expected to vote to place that hike on a future ballot.

If voters say yes, Oakland's 14 percent hotel tax could become among the most expensive in the Bay Area. Only spending the night across the bay would be more costly because of all the fees San Francisco tacks on to hotel bills.

"We'll still be cheaper than San Francisco," said Quan.

The hotel tax is being billed as a way to boost Oakland's struggling economy without asking residents to pick up the tab.

The tax would generate more than $3 million annually.

Half would go to the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote tourism in Oakland, the zoo, the Chabot Space and Science Center, the Oakland Museum and other arts and cultural programs would split the rest.

At the zoo, that means the being able to prevent yet another ticket price hike, something it had to do just last year.

"It's a small piece but it's the difference between black and red," said Oakland Zoo Executive Director Dr. Joel Parrott.

At the Chabot Space and Science Center, attendance is up, but charitable donations, a mainstay of its budget, are down.

"In these times it's challenging. To have a steady stream of income like this would make a huge difference," said Chabot Space and Science Center Executive Director Alexander Zwissler.

A world of difference.

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