Many of you have received the ballots to renew the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District tax. It is a mail-in ballot on which you not only need to mark the circle of your choice "yes" or "no" but also need to sign, address and date the envelope.
I am one of the "no" endorsers of the measure, and my reasons are as follows:
If you are a rental property owner, your tenants don't pay this tax. The Fire Department is supposed to answer all calls for service, and they do not need an added-on tax to do their already funded jobs. This money is and has been a slush fund that really has done nothing to change whether there might or might not be another firestorm.
The culprits in most fires are man-made: cigarette butts being thrown from car windows to the road; someone using a weedwacker on a dry, windy day and causing a spark; downed power lines that should be underground; and catalytic converters due to cars parked on dry uncut grassy areas are all examples.
This tax is now in the Mello Roos district category. Mello Roos districts are set up usually in new developments where no services exist and funded usually by bond measures to cover sewer, utilities, roads and infrastructure, not general and specialized taxes in an already developed city. The city believes that they are going to be able to bring more tax programs forward and do mail-out elections, knowing that most will not respond and the ones that do will be those individuals who already are expected to vote the party line.
Mail-in ballots are expected to be ignored, in this case by the 42,000 registered voters, and only a few will respond, with the expectation that they will be for Measure A -- 100 ballots could pass the tax.
The city and the district have never had an environmental review to make sure that endangered and rare vegetation was not being disturbed or killed off. There has never been a full audit of how these funds are really being spent. By law the Fire Department can inspect any area to make sure that the area is not a fire danger.
Berkeley lost homes in the "firestorm," and they don't have an assessment, nor does San Leandro. Contra Costa County voted down the fire assessment last year even though all kinds of threats were made to get the voters to pass it, and yet fires are still being fought and contained. We already pay for this: why is Oakland considered an easy mark?
If you take the time to drive the hills, you will see overgrowth that has been allowed to remain for years -- and it's usually on public land. Just get off at Park Boulevard from Highway 13 and look directly in front of you at the light and see the overgrowth, which is on Oakland schools' property.
We already pay property taxes that cover all the services that are required for our quality of life and safety in all three areas: state, county and local. The fire personnel are not paid out of this special tax. They, like the rest of the city employees, are paid from the general fund. Firefighting equipment is also paid for out of the general fund.
You need to start asking why are we constantly being asked to pay more and more while we get less and less. Oakland has the highest taxes in the area, and possibly the state, and yet we have fewer services than surrounding cities. Please vote and consider marking your ballot with a "no."
Nancy S. Sidebotham is a member of the Millsmont Neighborhood Association.