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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lighting And Landscape Tax

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.


  1. Government agencies are always at a disadvantage when trying to get ballot measures passed. There are strict laws about what materials government agencies can spend taxpayer dollars on and the City has adhered carefully to those laws. Private entities can spend unlimited funds on elections and say just about anything they want.

  2. the difference between a ballot measure (which the landscape and lighting measure is not) and a tax assessment is that registered voters in emeryville can vote on a ballot measure and out of town owners of developments cannot.

  3. If governments are trying to get a ballot measure passed, they should do it by persuasion, not by trying to fool people. Emeryville should have given the residents the real story, not some cherry picked thing.

  4. I meant 'property tax assesment' instead of 'ballot measure' in my previous post. It does not change anything else in my previous comment.

    You could argue that a property tax assesment is more equitable becuase the people and entities it affects get to vote on it. That is not always true for a ballot measure to raise taxes (e.g. a sales tax or hotel tax increase). In these examples, many of the people who vote to increase the tax pay very little of said tax. that's not very equitable. Most people will vote to tax others any day of the week.

    It should also be noted that both Oakland and Berkeley are among the many other Bay Area cities have had lighting districts in place for many years. This method of establishing landscaping and lighting districts has been allowed by the state legislature since 1972 with the passage of the Landscaping and Lighting Act.

  5. Governments cannot participate in anything that can be construed as persuasion. They are limited to informational materials only, which IMMENSELY limits what they are allowed to say. Just ask the Sacramento Municipal Utility District who tried to annex some of PG&E's territory a few years back. They lost largely because they couldn't advocate for the ballot measure and PG&E could.

  6. If governments can't engage in persuasion and are limited to informational materials only, then what the hell is up with this brochure?!? This story makes a great point: it's wrong that City Hall is trying to sell us this tax raise let alone using deception to do it?

    To the Tattler-
    You guys should see if a law has been broken. Certainly trust has been.

  7. There would be no need for this tax if the city would fairly apply the business license tax to the largest corporations, instead of giving them a free ride just because they are big and powerful.

  8. There is nothing on the brochure that is untrue. The law has not been broken.

    Vote against the assesment if you wish. That is your right. I'm still undecided and this blog certasinly isn't helping me to make up my mind. I was leaning toward voting against it, but now I'm leaning toward voting for it because no one here has put up a compelling agument otherwise.

  9. And do I get two no votes if we have a duplex? Nothing seemed to deal with that on the ballot form.

  10. This is a good question. I don't have the answer but for any questions about the fee, procedures or the process I'm being told property owners are to call Greg Ghironzi (800) 676-7516. He works for the firm that helped write the ballot and is qualified to answer any questions about the LLAD.

  11. The problem is less the way the taxes are assessed and more how City Hall is trying to pull a fast one.

  12. Waiting with baited breath to see how the Emeryville Connection covers this. Why nothing from them in a long time?