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Saturday, March 9, 2013

One Year Ago, Three Years Ago

A new Tattler feature that looks at our recent history.  One year ago, the Emery School District was facing a rash of resignations under protest at the Citizens Oversight Committee.  The Oversight Committee is mandated by the State of California to make sure the Measure J school bond money is allocated correctly.  Committee members were resigning en masse due to School District interference with the independence of the committee.  It's an issue in the news even today.  Three years ago in the depths of the Great Recession and facing a massive budget shortfall, the Emeryville City Council was considering allowing a citizen's vote on removing the business licence tax cap; a give-a-way to Emeryville's largest corporations and unprecedented in the Bay Area.  Later after threats from Pixar, Council members Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman using some crafty legerdemain, removed the vote from the ballot, forbidding Emeryville residents from deciding for themselves whether to keep the tax cap in place.  Emeryville remains today 
the only city in the Bay Area with a business tax cap.

Here's what was happening one year ago in Emeryville:

Crisis at Oversight Committee: Resignations
Another Resignation Mars 
Citizen Oversight Committee

March 12, 2012

At the February Measure J Citizens' Oversight Committee, Emeryville resident Matt Johnson told colleagues that he will not seek an additional term on the Committee and he indicated later that its job of overseeing how the Measure J bond funding is implemented has become "extremely difficult".  He said the School District had engaged in "tremendous overreach" with the Center of Community Life, the fiscal shepherding of which is the primary function of the Oversight Committee.  Mr Johnson's action adds to two colleagues, including Committee Chairman Brian Carver's resignation last week, making the third Oversight Committee member resignation since September.

Mr Johnson told the Tattler he joined the Committee (replacing Shirley Enomoto who had resigned in protest last September) over financial concerns as the School District spends Measure J bond money to build the Center of Community Life.  He suggested that criticism of the Center of Community Life is being pushed down on the Committee, presumably by staff, positing "The structure of the Committee biases against criticism."

Mr Johnson noted the Committee seemed to be finally getting up to speed on the role of overseeing the School District after a year of "chaotic disorganization".  He pointed out that certain subcommittees, especially the Finance Subcommittee, set up by the Oversight Committee were starting to effectively function but had the rug pulled out from them by Schools Superintendent Debbra Lindo.  Ms Lindo moved to "restart" the finance committee unilaterally albeit as a new iteration according to Mr Johnson, an action he called "disappointing".

Former Oversight Committee member Johnson expressed concern that the Committee be allowed to be effective at the job of overseeing even as he leaves.  He warned any replacement that the job requires a lot of work, up to six meetings a month including subcommittee meetings and School Board meetings, if an Oversight Committee member wants to effectively oversee the School District.

The Citizens' Oversight Committee is mandated by the State of California to help ensure the School District spends public bond money as it should and it's supposed to add a level of transparency and democracy to public funds disbursement.

Matt Johnson is on the HOA Board of Directors at Emery Bay Village where he has lived since 2003. He has no children.
Here's what was happening in Emeryville three years ago:

NOW they Want to Make the Business Taxes More Progressive

March 10, 2010

How much money have we lost in Emeryville because of unwarranted and rigid ideology on the city council?

As the realization of our terrible fiscal bind grows, once sacred pro-business tax code ideology is starting to crumble. Even corporate maven and City Councilwoman Nora Davis uttered the unthinkable at a budget study session last week, "we need to look at raising revenue in all areas, including possibly lifting the cap on the business license tax," she said. A surprising statement since the existing tax structure, enacted by Ms. Davis and her colleagues, has limited our city's ability to pay for needed services for years. Indeed, our city has the lowest tax on business, by far, in the entire Bay Area. They are also heavily regressive, falling disproportionately on small businesses, while giving the city's biggest firms a huge break.

Business taxes in Emeryville let the largest corporations off the hook by "capping" the tax. Once the maximum amount of $115,774.03 is reached, all profits above the amount are fully exempt, even for a firm with multi-million dollar profits. As a proportion of overall income, large businesses pay much less per dollar than smaller business. Effectively, small business has been subsidizing large business in Emeryville for years. Small businesses have complained about the unfair nature of the business tax, but they have been rebuffed by the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber's friends on the council.

Emeryville resident and college professor Brian Carver has been alerting fellow residents of the absurdity of our tax code. In a letter to the city council, he demonstrates how unprecedented the cap is; no other city in the entire Bay Area has it. He has showed if the cap is lifted, even a little, millions in revenue would be gathered for our cash strapped city. According to his analysis, the burden would be very affordable for Emeryville's largest businesses.

The unfair tax structure in Emeryville is no accident. It a product of the city council's rigid ideology. Some argue that lower business tax can serve a city well but obviously this is not the case. To forgo so much revenue is reckless. We need to finally get our financial house in order and stop being a pariah on the Bay Area stage. One would be right to shake one's head and wonder how many millions of dollars we have given up due to this dogmatic policy and how that money could be used right now.

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