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Alamedans for Fair Taxation Outlines a Possible New Parcel Tax Structure

In a statement released this week, Alamedans for Fair Taxation (AFT) outlined what they say is a possible alternative parcel tax structure to replace Alameda Unified School District’s measures A and H, which raise roughly $7 million per year, and will expire in 2012.

The statement explains that AFT is exploring possible structures that would be progressive, and in their view, fair, and would ensure that private religious schools in Alameda pay the parcel tax too. Ed Hirshberg, a member of the AFT committee working on the alternatives, said, “Most people probably aren’t aware that when they voted for Measures H and E in the past, they voted to exempt religious schools in Alameda from paying the parcel tax, even as those schools divert students, and state money, away from the Alameda Unified School District.”

AFT also said they are examining ways to ensure that for-profit businesses that lease space from City of Alameda-owned property, like the Alameda Theater, pay their share of the parcel tax too. Municipal property is exempt from property taxes and special assessments, and commercial leases typically pass through such taxes to tenants.

The group provided the following key provisions of the first alternative, below, and indicated that the committee is continuing to work on alternative structures to raise money for the District “without resorting to the predatory taxation implemented in past school parcel taxes.”

Alternative #1

  • Tax is a flat rate of cents/square foot based on lot size of parcel.
  • There is roughly 250 million square feet of taxable, dry land in Alameda.
  • At 2 to 4 cents /square foot, AUSD could raise as much as $10 million per year.
  • If submerged land along Alameda’s shores were included, the amount of tax raised could be higher. There is over 600 million square feet of dry and submerged land in Alameda.
  • No cap on the amount of tax paid.
  • Same tax rate and structure for residential as for commercial. (No split-roll.)
  • Exemption for low-income residents, not just an exemption for seniors.
  • No exemption for non-profits, like religious schools, who take students and state money away from AUSD.
  • A ‘giveback’ clause to return money to taxpayers if and when state funding returns to normal levels.

Alamedans for Fair Taxation is the local business and property owners group behind the Borikas et al. v. Alameda Unified School District et al. lawsuit over AUSD’s Measure H, which alleges that Measure H is unfair and illegal because it provides different tax rates for residential and commercial property owners, and even between commercial property owners, depending on the size of their property. Earlier this, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in the District’s favor on the suit, but an attorney for the group recently filed a notice of appeal. (The case number is VG08405316.) The group has previously stated that they would support a “fair and uniform” tax to support the schools.

32 comments to Alamedans for Fair Taxation Outlines a Possible New Parcel Tax Structure

  • Andy Currid

    “There is roughly 250 million square feet of taxable, dry land in Alameda.”

    All the tax roles I have seen put the number of taxable square feet at around 100 million square feet, not 250 million. Where is AFT getting the 250 million number from?

  • Andy – the City of Alameda website says that Alameda occupies 12.4 square miles. At 27,878,400 sq ft per square mile, that’s over 345 million square feet. Are you saying less than a 1/3rd of that is taxable? AFT is getting data from the County. (Note that Alameda Point is only a little over 1 square mile, or 30 million square feet.)

  • Andy Currid

    All the data I’ve seen is also from the County, in the form of the Assessor’s parcel list that includes the parcel square footage. I think that’s a better basis on which to reason about what you can apply a parcel tax to, rather than an absolute measure of Alameda’s land area. Roads, for example, are not taxable parcels, but they account for a sizeable amount of Alameda’s land area.

  • How much, d’ya think, account for roads, on a % basis? 66% ?

  • Andy Currid

    I have no idea.

    What is the data that AFT is getting from the County that says there’s 250 million square feet of taxable land?

  • It looks like AFT accounted for roads – over 345 million square feet total, and AFT estimates 250 million sq ft of taxable parcels. That’s almost 100 million sq ft attributed to roads, lagoons, etc, and other non-taxable land.

    What about condominiums? Does your 100 million sq ft include condos? A 1,500 sq ft condo could be treated as taxable ‘land’ for the purposes of a parcel tax. At 4 cents/sq ft, that’s $60/year – far less than the $309/year of Measures A and H. This data is available all over the place – look up condo listings on Zillow, Trulia, MLS, etc. There’s also countless parcel data services like DataQuick.com and ParcelQuest.com http://www.trulia.com/for_sale/Alameda,CA/CONDO_type/

    Does your 100 million sq ft include private religious schools, like St. Joes and St. Philip Neri, which AUSD currently exempts from the parcel tax through discretionary language in the ballot measures?

    http://www.action-alameda-news.com/2010/07/26/exemption-quirks-mean-religious-schools-certain-businesses-dont-pay-school-parcel-taxes/

  • Andy Currid

    Unlike the 250 million sqft number that AFT is quoting, the ~100 million square feet number is not an estimate; it’s what you get if you add up the lot square footage of *all* parcels in Alameda, and yes, I’m including condos.

    If you want to tax condos by the building square foot, rather than the lot square foot, which is in effect what you’re proposing when you say a “1500 sqft condo could be treated as taxable ‘land'”, I think that’s interesting and should be looked at, but it contradicts the AFT statements that the “tax is a flat rate of cents/square foot based on lot size of parcel”, and “No split-roll”. If taxing by the building square foot is good for condos, why not tax everyone that way?

    Anyway, the key point here is I believe AFT overestimate the amount of taxable parcel square feet in Alameda by around 2.5x. That’s a fairly basic disconnect and I think it needs to be resolved before any of the other points are considered.

  • Actually, the Berkeley Library Relief Act of 1980 taxes people based on sq foot of building improvements. There are some people advocating for that approach too. The amount of taxable building improvements in Alameda is probably much higher. And it’s open for debate whether treating a condo as ‘land’ and taxing them at 4 cents/sq foot, the same as genuine land, constitutes a ‘split roll.’ AFT’s complaint about “split roll” is that different tax rates are assigned to residential versus commercial, and even within commercial properties (due to the tax cap.) AFT is suggesting 2 to 4 cents/sq ft for everything.

    Even if the 100 million sq ft figure is correct, the rate would be 7 cents per square foot to match measures A and H. For a typical single-family-home 5,000 sq ft lot in Alameda, that would be $350/year, just a slight increase over the existing $309/year, and it would be a fairer approach. The question then comes down to how much AUSD says they “need” versus how much taxpayers are willing to/can afford, to pay.

    What County data did YOU use to come to 100 million square feet? You’ve faulted AFT in the past for their data – which came from the county – by saying that the square foot lot size for condos was for the entire parcel, not the individual unit. Why don’t you publish and share the data you have, to resolve this disconnect?

  • Andy Currid

    Take the data that AFT has shared in the past – the one I pointed out the overcounting of condo parcel square footage – add up the parcel square footage, being sure to count condo lot square footage just once, and I think you’ll get around 100 million square feet.

    It’s also documented in the data AUSD obtained from its parcel tax administrator:

    http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/parcel_demographics.pdf

    You can see in those numbers that building square feet is lower than parcel square footage, not higher; it’s ~50M sqft versus ~100M sqft.

    can’t publish the data I have because a) it’s not my data, it belongs to KASE, who purchased it for the 2008 parcel tax campaign, and b) it contains information that most people would consider a violation of privacy were it to be published online, and I’m not about to tg

    The school district has published a summary

  • Currid merely challenges the estimate, without addressing the underlying logic of fairness, progressive tax, school “need” vs. “get,” etc. And, as Action Alameda points out, without citing his data source. As a debating tactic, that’s a diversion from the central argument, which is whether a more fair and equitable tax can be designed to fund the schools than the regressive, split-roll and unfair taxes of the past and in place now, and the one defeated by voters recently. If his mindset is simply in opposition to anything but those taxation instruments, then he should just come out and say so. For if AUSD proposes such a new tax, yet again, in the Spring, those of us opposed to Measure E will fight the next one ever more vigorously, no matter what apologists say.

  • Andy Currid

    Wow, Firefox really mangled that last comment. It should have concluded:

    I can’t publish the data I have because a) it’s not my data, it belongs to KASE, who purchased it for the 2008 parcel tax campaign, and b) it contains information that most people would consider a violation of privacy were it to be published online, and I’m not about to spend the time to redact it. And since the parcel square footage data is available from the other sources I’ve referenced, there’s no need.

  • Andy Currid

    I just cited my data sources. If people want to have a meaningful dialog based on data and facts rather than estimates and assumptions, I’m happy to post here. If you want to snipe, forget it.

  • That link – http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/parcel_demographics.pdf

    is not an itemized list of parcels, that can be toted up to arrive at a number, it’s only a summary. And there’s no back-up provided for, no explanation of what’s included and what isn’t (is Alameda Point included?), or where the data came from, etc. And the document is from the District, which doesn’t seem at all to be interested in pursuing anything different from what they’ve done in the past.

    And, the 104 million sq ft number suggests that 69% of Alameda’s land mass (345 million sq ft) is not taxable, which doesn’t pass the smell test. 69% of Alameda is in roads, parks and lagoons?

    So unless the District, or KASE (Ron Mooney, AUSD Board), come forward with their itemized list of parcels to compare to AFT, it just a matter of “he says 100 million” and “she says 250 million.”

    As for privacy, people should understand that there really isn’t any when it comes to tax records. Have you looked at your tax bill online lately? The tax rolls are all public records, available to anyone willing to make a public records request. Google has already photographed the front of your house and put it “on the Internet.” Zillow already has your home value, square footage, and a picture of house “on the internet.”

  • Andy Currid

    KASE and AUSD have their itemized parcel lists, and AFT apparently also has one that includes lot square footage; Gina Cobre previously referenced it in comments on this site. Instead of theorizing top-down about how 300 million square feet of land might translate into taxable parcels, why doesn’t AFT do the bottom-up analysis on their own data?

  • My understanding is that they are, and unlike KASE and AUSD, they plan to make the detailed list available. Does the KASE and AUSD summary include religious schools that AUSD exempts? There isn’t any transparency into how AUSD came up with their 104 million sq foot number – no explanation of what they counted and didn’t count, etc. The total number of “doors” doesn’t even look right – census data suggests there are more than 30,000 homes in Alameda, and AUSD came up with something like 26,000 “doors” or units, per that link you posted.

    Incidentally, Andy, were you not part of KASE in 2008? Ron Mooney is listed as the treasurer right now, but if memory serves, you were a part of KASE. There’s probably some KASE PAC filings around with your name on it. So how is it you don’t have access to KASE file to share it, to get this resolved?

    http://www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal/2008/06/04/alamedas-measure-h-its-not-over-til-its-over/

    “The more the better, though, because the percentage of ‘yes’ votes from those who voted yesterday was running about 72 percent, according to Andy Currid of KASE. ”

    http://www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal/2008/05/27/alameda-nonprofits-are-exempt-from-measure-h/
    “…Andy Currid, who is heading up the Measure H effort, wrote in a recent email: “Please note that Measure H will not tax the Elks or similar not-for-profit institutions in Alameda. This is because the parcels of land owned by those institutions (many of whom are churches) have Use Codes that are not commercial or industrial. Measure H also exempts any property that is already exempt from property tax under state law.”

  • Andy Currid

    That’s great, I’ll look out for AFT’s list being made available, or at least a summary of it. Right now, there isn’t any transparency to how AFT came up with its number of 250 million taxable parcel square feet (remind me again what data AFT is getting from the County? – I don’t think you answered that).

    Yes, I was part of KASE. But that doesn’t make the data personally mine to share.

    By the way, if AFT has truly identified an additional 150 million square feet of land in Alameda that should be subject to taxation, that would be awesome; I think people at all points on the spectrum would welcome that. But if not, it’s a distraction that’s going to lead to wrong assumptions about what the burden of any given tax structure will be. That’s in no-one’s best interests.

  • Hot R

    The Action Alameda calculations are clearly inaccurate. Why not just admit it, and move on?

    I compliment you if you are sincere in attempting to raise money for schools but you need to propose a parcel tax which will raise the amount of money cut by the State. I am not sure it is within the legal power of the AUSD to tax the Elks, SJND, and the Chinese Christian School, or change the lease between the City of Alameda and the Theatre. Time to rethink your proposal.

  • So who, exactly, is “KASE” these days, anyway, then? Who exactly, owns the “KASE” list that you keep referring to?

    It’s like I said, it’s just “he said, she said” – you say there’s 100 million sq ft of taxable land, AFT says 250 million. And you haven’t answered questions about AUSD’s methodology in coming up with the 104 million sq ft number. Does it or does it not include non-profits, religious schools, city property, etc. What’s in that number? Why does it have only 26,000 “doors” when there are over 30,000 homes in Alameda, per census data? If you don’t know, just say so. People can arrive at different numbers by counting different things, and therein lies the discrepancy.

    My understanding is that AFT is pulling together data from a number of sources – the tax scrolls that AUSD submits to the County is one, as well as County records available through public records for another. The tax scrolls submitted by AUSD alone would be incomplete by definition, because they are already excluding parcels from taxation. Counting only parcels on AUSD’s tax scroll would provide a lower number than reality. You said yourself that AUSD excluded land owned by non-profit institutions from Measure H.

    And are you saying that if there’s enough taxable land to support a fair tax ($/sq ft) to give the schools as much money as you think they need, that’s great, but if it doesn’t generate that much money, than it’s ok to go with an unfair, regressive tax, like Measure H, Measure E, etc?

  • What, specifically, is “clearly inaccurate,” Hot R? My calculations are only this: Based on roughly 12 square miles, there are over 300 million square feet of dry land in Alameda. What did AUSD NOT count to arrive at 104 million?

    And, yes, it is within the power of AUSD to tax the non-profits. As we wrote earlier, and Andy Currid himself confirmed re: Measure H, AUSD wrote discretionary language in Measure H (and Measure E as well) that exempts from the parcel tax any properties that don’t pay real property taxes. As we documented, St. Joes pays the other special assessments, like sewer service, etc., and per the County, they are exempt from property taxes, but not special assessments such as a school parcel tax. AUSD doesn’t need to write that language into the ballot measure. AUSD confirmed that language (Shemwell) and refused to explain why the language is there. http://www.action-alameda-news.com/2010/07/26/exemption-quirks-mean-religious-schools-certain-businesses-dont-pay-school-parcel-taxes/

    AFT believes there may be a way apply a tax to the for-profit businesses that lease space from the City, and they have said so far only that they are exploring that.

  • Andy Currid

    The sum of money that Alameda schools need is an independent question to how one structures a tax. But any tax spread across a larger number of parcel square feet (or building square feet) will result in a lower per sqft rate for everyone.

    I can’t speak for what was in/out of AUSD’s list, I don’t know that. What I do know is that the total parcel square footage numbers that AUSD listed are more or less the same as KASE’s. And I know that KASE’s numbers included every parcel in the city, exempt or not. Definitely not 250 million square feet, but no need to take my word for it; if you do the summation on the parcel list that AFT has, I think you’ll end up with the same result.

  • Actually, that’s exactly what you’re asking – “take my word for it….” because you’re unable, perhaps through no fault of your own, to back it up, you can only keep asserting it. That 70% of the land in Alameda is not taxable doesn’t pass the smell test. It also doesn’t pass the smell test that AUSD arrives at 26,000 households in a city with over 30,000.

    And, again, WHO is “KASE” that you keep referring to? Who owns the KASE data and has within their power to share it, to resolve this discrepancy?

  • This is the same lack of transparency that AUSD, KASE and APlus have been criticized for in the past. An arbitrary tax, seemingly designed to shift costs away from more affluent neighborhoods and the large retail malls to gain their support, or at least blunt their opposition. Very political and strategic but hardly fair. And who says local taxpayers are under any obligation to replace cuts by the state? Personally, I want to see the kinds of larger economies that are being pursued now by Superintendent Vital. There is no evidence that programs being cut, such as day care, class sizes being increased, teachers being laid off, do any damage to Core education. Class size studies show very mixed results. And without a new parcel tax, such cuts will be unavoidable. Rather than quibbling about parcel size and doorknobs, tax advocates should address the real concerns voiced by opponents. “Sniping”? I don’t think so. Facts AND logic.

  • AFT would likely argue that taxpayers aren’t obligated to make up the cuts by the State, but rather, AUSD is obligated to make adjustments in accordance to what taxpayers, through the State, and through parcel taxes, are willing and can afford to pay.

  • Currid and Hot Air continually tell us, “Answer our questions!” while ignoring ours. It’s an old bogus debate technique, and by using it, they have hereby discredited themselves. They should just politely retire from the stage before we laugh them off. They don’t have an argument, just more attitude, which is the cheapest commodity on the commentariate blogosphere.

  • Anonymous

    Simple point. If you propose a tax scheme, then do your homework first. You’ve picked a funding level, fine. The level can be debated. But if you’re proposing a tax based on square-footage–a tax that will presumably be collected by the county–you need to know how many taxable square feet the county thinks there are. The onus is on you to find this out before making a proposal, otherwise you look like incompetent amateurs. (Side question: is Action Alameda in any way associated with AFT?)

  • Andy Currid

    I’m not asking you to take my word for it. I’m suggesting that you do a bottom-up assessment of all the parcels in the list that AFT has and see if the total matches the 250 million square feet of taxable land that your top-down analysis claims there is.

  • Smart voter

    I find it very curious why Andy Currid and “not so hot Rob” argue about square footage and doorknobs, when they should reach out to AFT and propose a meeting to discuss how to proceed on a new tax. It seems to me that their minds are already made up to fight anyone that disagrees with them. APLUS and unfortunately AEF have also made it clear that they are preparing for a massive campaign costing thousands of dollars, money that could and should go to the classrooms instead.
    AFT has not even proposed a new tax yet and it looks like they are working hard to make the tax fair for everyone. Why not wait and see what the tax will look like, before you start arguing and sniping at AFT and Action Alameda, it makes you Andy Currid and Rob look foolish and people might think you are deliberately trying to boycott a group of Alameda citizen, that are trying to help our schools.

    We should all work together on this and just maybe we could come up with a tax to help our schools that the whole community will support.Continuing this negative discussion on this or any other board, will only further the division we already are experiencing in our City.

  • We’ve put in a public records request to AUSD and Ron Mooney for the detailed parcel tax files Andy Currid says they have. But it seems that AFT told us once that they went around this with AUSD once before, and AUSD said they have no detail parcel database, only a summary report from an outside vendor.

  • Hot R

    I agree with Smart Voter that we should work together. But there is nothing wrong with pointing out that the square footage which forms the basis of their estimate may not be accurate. I think Andy was very helpful in pointing out some inconsistencies and actually taking Action Alameda at their word that they are looking to help AUSD,. Given the negative tone and attacks generated on this site directed toward AUSD schools and their teachers, the fact that Andy even made an effort is a great credit to him and shows he is working in good faith.

  • Good faith? If Andy addressed the real question, the central point of AFT’s efforts, the need for a FAIR tax, we would take him seriously and give him the benefit of a doubt that he is debating in “good faith.” As long as the two of you just repeat Erwin & Muir talking points and the party line, there is no good faith on your part in sight.

  • Hot R – the numbers Andy quotes could equally be “inaccurate.” It all comes down to what’s being counted, and Andy can’t explain what AUSD counted and what they didn’t. And he wouldn’t answer direct questions, like who is the “KASE” owner of the data he keeps referring to, and he made no offer to help get that data to share it to resolve the discrepancy. He only asserted that his number is right, and AFT’s number is wrong. It’s fine to point out the discrepancy, as you say, but he couldn’t get beyond that, despite pointed questions “Did AUSD count religious schools? Alameda Point?” etc.

  • And if “Hot R” is really Ron Moody, using an alias, why would we expect anything from him but the Party Line? This is the guy who put his own kid on the AUSD Board, as a “Student Rep,” almost as bad as Trustee McMahon, who is termed out, putting his wife, his daughter and another relative on the AUSD payroll in violations of every ethics clause there is. He doesn’t even “…see a need to recuse…” himself from decisions affecting them! Vunderkind.

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