Tonight the City Council voted unanimously to start a process that could lead to a November ballot initiative permitting voters to decide if Emeryville should become a charter city; an alternate style of municipal governance that increases local control at the expense of Sacramento. The idea was first broached in January at the State of the City annual address by Mayor Jac Asher. Mayor Asher says by becoming a charter city, Emeryville voters could decide if a real estate transfer tax should be imposed, offsetting the major loss of funds Emeryville has experienced in the wake of Sacramento rescinding the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency.
Even though all five Council members ultimately voted to instruct the City Staff to bring a specific charter city proposal for their consideration at a future meeting, Councilman Kurt Brinkman struggled with the idea at first, "The City has been run well with the current structure" he lamented. Further, he added, if real estate transfer taxes are increased it would cause inequity, "It's not fair that renters don't have to pay this fee" he said. Such a tax would be on the backs of residents Mr Brinkman said, albeit homeowners and only those selling their homes and leaving Emeryville. The City Clerk noted home sales are a small percentage of real estate transfers in Emeryville (businesses being the lion's share) and if the people decide to raise the tax, it could be possible to craft a ballot initiative to carve out most homeowners by exempting properties less than a set amount. The Council instructed the staff to present several specific proposals for their consideration at the future meeting.
Mayor Asher stressed the importance of getting our fiscal house in order after the demise of the Redevelopment Agency. She stressed the fact that neighboring cities have become charter cities, imposing transfer taxes to fill voids in their budgets after their redevelopment agencies were taken away. Ms Asher called a transfer tax a "new economic tool" to help Emeryville move forward as our neighbors have done.