Follow the Money; second in a series
The Tattler introduces a new feature for the 2014 election season: Follow the Money.
This election cycle is shaping up to be very expensive and very far-flung with lots of money from out-of-town interests pouring into the city. We plan on digging out and exposing this money from people and organizations we don’t know that are trying to change our town to their liking. These unfamiliar individuals and interest groups may effect our November elections with all their spending in Emeryville but the Tattler is going to make sure that while they assert their influence, we’re going to expose who they are.Click on the 'Follow the Money' label at the bottom of this story or use the search bar to review the entire Follow the Money series.
|Mayor Jac Asher|
Mayor Jac Asher is issuing a warning to all Emeryville residents about the tsunami of cash flowing into our town from Sacramento real estate lobbyists. Here is Ms Asher's letter from her blog:
“Yes” on U & V
Big Money flowing into Our Little City.
The five members of the Emeryville City Council voted unanimously to place a set of measures on this November’s ballot: Measures U & V.
Measures U & V work together. Measure U allows Emeryville to become a charter city—this is the only way that we can set and collect a real estate documentary transfer tax. We’ve constructed the charter to be very narrow, and are not changing the composition of our Council or other important elements of the way our City is governed. Measure V is our transfer tax measure. Real estate transfer taxes are collected when a property is bought/sold. The cost of the tax is typically split between the buyer and the seller, or, like any part of a real estate transaction, can be negotiated by buyer and seller. All of our neighboring cities are charter cities, and this tax provides millions of dollars for them to provide services and infrastructure to their residents. To give you some idea of what this would mean to Emeryville: In 2013, the year the office buildings located on Powell Street, West of the 880 Fwy then known as The Watergate Towers, were sold, Emeryville collected $130K. If we had the real estate transfer tax at that time, the City would have collected over $2 million, a huge difference.
There is wide support for Measures U & V in Emeryville. Every candidate running for City council this election season supports U & V.
The Emeryville Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed these measures. They understand that the city’s ability to provide amenities, services, and infrastructure is crucial to the businesses in our town and that these measures will help our city remain attractive to businesses. The Alameda County Democratic Party as well as the League of Women Voters of Berkeley Albany Emeryville have also endorsed the measures.
As mayor, I pushed for these measures because Emeryville no longer has the funding mechanism of the State of California’s redevelopment program to build and support our infrastructure needs. This program was eliminated by the state in 2011, taking $30 million dollars annually from our budget—roughly half of our city budget. We must find a new way forward to build parks, support our excellent services, keep our roads paved and regularly maintained—all of the things that you value as a resident. We cannot depend wholly upon the state to come up with solutions for us—it’s time for us to take this step. Measures U & V will allow us to build up capital funds for our projects and to have a means to pay-as-we-go.
Money and scare tactics against the measures have begun flowing in from both the National and California Association of Realtors. These groups are among the most powerful lobbying groups in California. The California Real Estate PAC has a “toolkit” at the ready for fighting transfer taxes even though they recognize that cities currently like ours (General Law Cities) have had those tax rates frozen since 1968. They don’t want General Law cities to collect a dime more than they did in 1968. That’s their bottom line.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics OpenSecrets.org Blog, the California Real Estate PAC has already spent over 1.5M in the 2014 Election Cycle. The site also shows a list of their members. Why are these people from San Diego, Long Beach, and Bakersfield interested in what we do in Emeryville?
Their lobbyist’s “toolkit” is already at work in our town. Here are some examples of their possible tactics directly from their website: use your influence (behind closed doors) in order to get your message across because public meetings are so “adversarial” and “chaotic”. Create backchannels to City staff to see if that works. Find out if there are other community issues that could create a “quid pro quo” in order to peel off supporters. Reach out to local media. Buy ad space. And if none of that works, well, dump money and misinformation to mislead voters. It’s this last “tool” that has already begun making its way to your mailbox before the election.
In a recent mailer sent to Emeryville residents, purportedly from “Citizens to Preserve Emeryville” (headquartered in Sacramento!), the scare tactics we expected were on full display, even suggesting that the Charter might one day be amended to give City Council Members a raise. What the mailer fails to mention is that all Charter amendments go to the voters first. Recent mandatory financial contribution disclosures show that “Citizens to Preserve Emeryville” has just one contributor, the National Association of Realtors, who has dumped $60,000 so far into this campaign. That’s over $20,000 more than all Emeryville City Council candidates have raised combined!
Let’s set the record straight: Any changes to the charter would need to be approved by the voters first. Transfer taxes do not make housing less affordable. These funds can be used to help fund affordable housing. The city’s ability to fund excellent services and amenities helps your real estate hold its value—real estate transfer taxes are your investment as a homeowner into the city.
Realize that the interests that are campaigning against these measures spread mistruths with no consequences—when residents want a dog park, when they need more services in town, when our growth calls for more infrastructure and affordable housing—these outside interests will have vanished and the City Council will be left with limited funds and the growing needs of our community.
The Emeryville City Council has been transparent, forward-thinking and responsive in its approach to doing what is right for the people of Emeryville. That is exactly what leadership looks like in Emeryville and why voters should vote “Yes” on Measures U & V.
Mayor of the City of Emeryville
 From their toolkit: If a transfer tax surfaces, enlist the key contact people and possibly others versed on the issue to meet with council members prior to the public hearing on the tax. In the privacy of the legislator‘s office, you will have his/her undivided attention, and the chances for meaningful dialogue are much better than at the public hearing where the process tends to be much more chaotic and adversarial. Meetings prior to the hearing should provide your Association with some idea as to each councilperson‘s position on the tax. If the vote appears close, the Association may want to concentrate its efforts on the members who constitute the “swing votes”.
 Another “gem” from the toolkit: Establish working relationships with key staff people at the city[…]Many times, an idea such as a transfer tax emanates from the city staff, not the elected officials. It is most advantageous to create an ongoing relationship with city staff (e.g., city manager, planning director, finance director), since these individuals may alert the Association to upcoming issues which will impact the real estate industry.
 Their toolkit suggests: Associations can utilize IMPAC funds to help establish a relationship with elected officials and their staff. For example, IMPAC funds could be used to cover the costs of taking elected officials and staff to lunch on an ongoing basis as the Alameda Association of REALTORS® does. The Association wants to establish a working relationship with their elected officials in a non-confrontational setting, and they want the city to know that they can be a resource when it comes to a host of issues relating to the community