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:

  • We are being asked to pay a tax that we already pay for through the regular revenue collection from property taxes. It is based on a formula divided between the state, county and cities. Over the years, Oakland, among other cities, has found a way to tax property owners for services we have already paid for.

  • The Assessment District came about after the firestorm that took 3,000 homes and 25 lives. It was a devastating fire driven by Santa Ana winds, which the then-fire chief and department chose to ignore after dousing a brush fire near the Caldecott Tunnel on the north side of Highway 24. Due to the Oakland Fire Department's negligence in not monitoring the location for the next 24 hours, the embers reignited.

  • The tax that property owners of the district (randomly chosen) are being asked to pay does NOT cover their personal residence. It is being used as a monetary slush fund to pay for maintaining the city's public lands. We already pay for this in our property taxes and the Landscape and Lighting Assessment District (another add-on tax).


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  • The East Bay Regional Park District, Oakland Unified School District, Caltrans, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Pacific Gas & Electric and nonprofits such as the zoo and churches that own land are exempt from paying into the fund. The shut-off valves that PG&E declares a success have made no difference, nor have they guaranteed shutdowns when a local crisis becomes apparent. EBMUD has not guaranteed increases in water flow to help fight fires. Neither agency has trained individuals in case of an earthquake on how to protect the neighborhoods by shutting off the valves if a break occurs. If there is a major disaster such as an earthquake, getting help is not guaranteed because many areas will be inaccessible for emergency vehicles.

  • If you have driven the hills lately where the firestorm happened, houses have been rebuilt, but the access roads that helped fuel the rampant devastation are still inaccessible to emergency vehicles.

    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.