OAKLAND

Summer is here. The weather is warm. The days are longer than they will be all year.

Is it really election season?

It is in Oakland, where City Council members have placed four revenue-generating ballot measures before voters in a special mail-only election. Some 205,000 ballots were sent out by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office this week as city officials continue to grapple with an estimated $83 million deficit that could grow deeper in the weeks and months ahead.

The ballot includes measures to: increase the city's Hotel Tax from 11 percent to 14 percent; decrease the amount of money Oakland is required to put aside for youth programs; institute a new tax on medical marijuana dispensaries; and rewrite a portion of the city's tax code to ensure property transfers through corporate mergers and acquisitions are taxable.

The four measures — which could generate $7 million or $8 million in annual revenue for the city — play a relatively small role in the immediate budget picture. Supporters nonetheless bill them as key to not only help patch this year's budget, but to establish ongoing revenue streams for the city in the future.


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"This is just an unprecedented global economic crisis, and Oakland has taken strong steps to get out of this hole," said Sharon Cornu, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County. "City employees have taken really tough hits — layoffs and salary and benefit cuts. We're working really hard to make sure these measures pass."

The Oakland City Council is expected to approve a two-year spending plan Tuesday. Even after that vote, the fiscal crisis could continue to deepen, depending on: the outcome of the city's election; whether the state of California moves to take tax dollars from local coffers; and how much the city receives from a federal grant for more police officers.

The election will cost $1.5 million and, in many ways, will be a shell of what it might have been. The council entertained — and eventually rejected — proposals from City Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) to ask voters to increase the sales tax or to impose a parcel tax for park maintenance.

Such proposals might have meant more revenue for Oakland, but they would have hit the pocketbooks of Oakland residents across the city — and would have drawn stiffer opposition.

Certainly more opposition than the measures that ended up on the ballot. City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large), who supports all four, noted the proposals include a Hotel Tax that is supported by the hotel industry; a medical marijuana tax that is supported by medical marijuana dispensaries; and a reduction in youth-program funding that was put on the ballot with the blessing of the same coalition of youth advocates that fought for funding increases in a separate ballot measure in November.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Kaplan said. "Obviously, we do have to reach out to voters."

As it is, some continue to bemoan that Oakland did not put a full repeal of the November youth-program ballot measure, Measure OO, on the ballot, rather than the compromise reduction. But the only measure to draw an official ballot argument against it is the proposal to amend the transfer tax code. It is opposed by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber supports both the Hotel Tax increase and the set-aside reduction for youth programs, however. And Scott Peterson, the chamber's public policy director, said it's a "good thing" the ballot doesn't also include a sales or parcel tax increase, because that, he said, could have "doomed all the measures."

Quan said it's possible she might move again to try to ask voters for money to fund park maintenance, which has been hammered in budget cuts over the past year. But she was optimistic about the results of this election, largely because the taxes wouldn't hit most Oakland residents.

"These aren't taxes that affect most taxpayers," she said.

Ballots should arrive this week. If you don't get one, contact the Registrar of Voters office at 510-272-6933 or pick up one at 1225 Fallon St. in Oakland. Ballots must be received by the Registrar of Voters office — not postmarked — by 8 p.m. July 21.