New Tax Glossed Over In Glossy Brochure
Emeryville voters should expect an objective non biased analysis from the city of any tax proposals coming from City Hall. However, a recent city produced glossy color brochure mailer detailing a new tax scheme called the 'Landscape and Lighting Assessment District' (LLAD), seems more intent on obscuring the resident's tax burden than illuminating it.
The brochure, titled 'Your LLAD Assessment Ballot', purports that residents will pay less than "commercial properties" even though businesses in town will pay far less per square foot than the residents on average. Further, the city makes no mention in the mailer that residents will get one vote on the LLAD per unit, but most businesses will get multiple votes. While the Secretary of State is compelled to give objective analysis in the California voter guide, Emeryville apparently feels no such compunction to do likewise in the $6700 taxpayer funded LLAD brochure.
Brochure Is Silent: Business Is Favored
The problem from the tax plan's inception has been how to equitably divide up the assessment among property owners. A very Byzantine scheme has emerged and is now being voted on by Emeryville property owners by ballot. Residents will pay $93.25 per unit. Businesses are broken up into three categories; commercial, office and industrial and are charged about $139, $82 and $37 (per 1000 square feet) respectively. Additionally, businesses rates will be adjusted based on the number of employees they have. This is further complicated by the fact that while both businesses and residents will pay for street lighting and landscape "services" at the ratio, park lighting and landscape services will be born almost exclusively by residents.
The assessment has been concocted to assure that ballots are weighted in favor of the businesses; tallying the vote will consist of adding up all the value that is voted one way or another. So for instance 100 residents voting in favor would equal $9,325 of "YES" value. Looking at three large businesses in town, Wareham Development, Pixar and Novartis shows how the assessment favors business. Wareham will be voting a combined value of $78,260; Pixar will vote at a value of $16,660 and Novartis will equal $39,210. So to think about it another way, it would take 839 resident votes to equal the Wareham vote ($78,260 divided by $93.25).
The complicated assessment scheme results show a disparity between businesses and residents as one compares geography versus LLAD payments. This is revealed starkly when one considers that Emeryville is about 80% business and 20% residential in terms of land use, but when it comes to LLAD collections, business pays about 56% while residents pay 44%.
The City Gives Misleading Information
The brochure mailer makes claim to a level of objectivity; "to help you make an informed decision, the City of Emeryville would like to provide property owners with additional background" but also states that commercial property (with increased traffic) pays "slightly more than an average residential property" failing to mention the other two business categories, office and industrial that pays far less.
City Manager and LLAD brochure author, Pat O'Keeffe declined to comment for this story.
Ballots are due by May 18th and a public hearing on this assessment will happen on the 18th at City Hall, 1333 Park Avenue at 7:15 PM.