Oakland City Council Splits on Education Items: No to Collecting Taxes for Measure AA; Yes to OUSD Library/Restorative Justice Aid

Posted on April 19, 2019


;;pk_largeThe Oakland City Council voted on Tuesday to instruct the City Administration to not collect Measure AA taxes. In another vote, Council also directed the city to use a year-end surplus to re-fund the Oakland Unified School District’s Library and Restorative Justice positions. Both items drew a large crowd of overlapping and diverse speakers from the League of Women Voters, Oakland’s High School Councils, educators and various members of the public.

Measure AA, which failed to receive a 2/3 majority in November’s election was nonetheless certified by City Council in a December 2018 vote to certify city election results as is required by law. At that hearing, Dan Kalb moved to certify AA as passed, arguing that litigation in San Francisco and other cities on vote thresholds for voter measures and initiatives created ambiguity about when to apply simple and two-thirds majority rules. Kalb’s motion triggered a legal challenge, and council scheduled a special meeting to rehear Measure AA certification separately several days later; but, again Kalb’s proposal passed.

In the interim, Greg McConell’s Jobs and Housing Coalition sued the city for certifying AA. In a later closed session meeting, the City Attorney advised Council to forego collecting the tax while the suit continued, a move which required council action and which prompted last night’s vote.

There was vigorous public support for AA at the meeting, some of it obviously organized by Libby Schaaf’s Education Director, David Silver, who was a copious wrangler of various speakers in support of the measure. Assembly Member Rob Bonta, one of the primary supporters of the measure, also spoke, arguing the best way to comply with future court orders was to collect and hold the tax. Others, like, Jonathan Piper II, a Skyline High School Senior, said the city should run the legal risks of collecting the taxes rather than “turning down $30 million” for early education programs for the year.

Arguments against the Council’s certification of the measure came from an odd fellowship ranging from representatives from the League of Women Voters to JHC’s McConnel. Mary Bergen of the LWV argued the council erred in certifying AA as passed “because it was contrary to information provided to voters before the election”. Council President Rebecca Kaplan bolstered the case against AA by noting the Finance Department’s $2 million cost estimate for collecting the taxes in escrow. Finance Director Katano Kasaine added during the meeting that the costs for refunding the taxes, should they be found to have been collected erroneously, were even higher. In the end, the vote was not much of a surprise—Sheng Thao had already written a communique to her constituency telegraphing her affirmative vote, Kaplan had authored a memo outlining ways forward after an affirmative vote, and the City Attorney had advised the Council in closed session to forego tax collection.

Last night’s AA vote may wind down the battle for the measure, but it’s not over yet. The narrow resolution did not rescind direction the Council gave the City Attorney and Administrator to validate the ordinance. December’s vote directed both city agencies to begin a validation action–a superior court motion that would settle the validity of the city’s claim on AA–a move neither department has undertaken. Nor does last night’s vote rescind the city’s previous certification of AA. Council President Rebecca Kaplan offered a scheduling motion for a proposed resolution calling for the city to confer and “toll”–or pause–the suit, as well as other moves that would render the previous AA certification moot. The public scheduling motion was largely a symbolic action to suggest a move forward away from AA, however.

Many of the same youth speakers pleading to sustain AA tax collection were also vocal advocates for another proposal heard last night to fund OUSD restorative justice and library employees–positions OUSD terminated after settling its teachers strike earlier this year. Kaplan’s initiative proposed using an expected year-end budget surplus of 1.2 million dollars in the City’s Real Estate Transfer Tax revenue for fiscal year 2018-19 to fund both roles.

In a reverse of the Measure AA controversy, the idea enjoyed wide-ranging support from public speakers, but encountered backlash from the City’s Finance Department. Finance Director Kasaine argued against tagging monies from the fund before the budget is reconciled. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who has advertised her proposal to fund the positions in her 2019-21 budget, also criticized what she characterized as the “unusual” nature of the resolution and its conflict–and perhaps competition–with her own. But OUSD sent a letter to Council before the vote stating a preference for the disbursement to occur earlier to pre-empt scheduled lay-offs—a de facto argument for Kaplan’s proposal. Council Person Larry Reid, the only no vote, argued that the city faced a budget deficit and difficult negotiations with the city’s own workers on the horizon.

Some speakers, like Mike Hutchinson of Open Oakland Education Network, focused their criticism on OUSD. Hutchinson noted the budget cuts happened outside of the budget process, with the momentum from ending the teacher’s strike. Hutchinson also noted School Board Member Shanthi Gonzalez, who spoke in favor of the city funds, had voted to make the cuts in the first place.

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