An open letter to Mayor Cassidy and the San Leandro City Council from Richard Becker.
In the election of November 2010 San Leandro voters approved Measure Z, which established an additional 1/4 % sales tax increase for our city to protect and maintain local services.
Meazure Z won with approximately 61% of the vote.
Measure Z also stipulated that a Citizens Oversight Committee would be established to see that the money raised from the sales tax hike was spent properly and to report back to San Leandro residents.
An oversight committee is a great idea, especially when the purpose of the overseeing is to protect and maintain local services. It is especially important that the community be fairly represented on such a committee because virtually all San Leandro residents spend money and pay Sales Tax in San Leandro.
However when City government put out a press release on May 16, 2012 listing the guidelines for applying to be part of the Citizen’s Oversight Committee, you made it clear that only people in one or more of the following categories would be considered.
- Owners or managers of a business located in San Leandro.
- Members of a City Board or Commission.
- Officers of a city homeowners or neighborhood association
Additionally, two (2) seats on the oversight committee are unconditionally reserved for people recommended by The Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association.
Apparently these were the only people the Mayor and the supporters of the current plan considered 1st Class Citizens worthy of applying to oversee the tax revenue that all of us who live and shop in San Leandro have been paying since April of 2011.
Relegated to 2nd Class Citizens and made ineligible to serve on the Citizen’s Oversight Committee by the guidelines were almost all of us who are home owning or renting wage earners and retirees, without friends in high places.
While more than 95% of San Leandro residents were being excluded from even applying for the Citizen’s Oversight Committee, massive favoritism was being shown toward the Chamber of Commerce and The Downtown Business Association.
I have no problem with some limited representation of business interests on citizen oversight committees and I certainly think that officers (and active members) of neighborhood and home owners associations and City Committee people current or past should be considered for the Oversight Committee. But here in San Leandro we have the mayor and some of the City Council turning over 40% of a Citizen’s Oversight Committee to corporate and business interests before the ink was dry on the press release and then giving them a tremendous advantage in getting the lion’s share of the other 60 %. The rest of us are getting nothing but an unwanted lesson in Taxation without Representation.
Remember, this is an oversight committee, which will be dealing with the disposition of a tax that is regressive and falls relatively hardest on fixed income and low-income residents. San Leandro residents in those categories have some of the worst odds of being picked for the oversight committee under the current plan.
The purpose of Measure Z was clearly stated: to protect and maintain services in San Leandro. Does anyone really believe that the organized business community will be zealous in protecting and maintaining general services for a community if there is nothing in it for them? As Hazel Dickens put it in her song “They’ll never keep us down” “Your welfare ain’t on the rich man’s mind.”
Unions in the USA on the other hand, have an historical track record of going beyond just advocating for their own members. Unions in the U.S have been responsible in large part for making life better and fairer for all people not just union workers. The unions were a major force in the establishment of Social security, the eight hour day, higher paid overtime after eight hours, safety on the job, Civil Rights Legislation and the Family Medical Leave Act, among many other campaigns that have made the United States a better place for the large majority of its residents.
Labor unions also represent more people working, shopping, paying sales tax, and living in San Leandro than the Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Business Association. So, why aren’t there a couple of slots reserved for recommendations of the Alameda County Central Labor Council (the umbrella group for organized labor in our city and the rest of the county)?
Even if no place is reserved for any particular organization (Labor Council, Chamber of Commerce etc.), the guidelines for applying for membership on the Citizen’s Oversight Committee should be greatly expanded to include others currently not eligible.
This could include allowing people to apply for the Oversight Committee who are officers or active members of senior organizations, civil rights organizations, tenants associations, local labor unions, environmental groups based in San Leandro, social clubs with a positive community mission, community groups specifically organized to improve community services (e.g. Friends of the Library). I would also include groups involved in fighting for maintaining services and improving our public schools (e.g. Parent-Teacher organizations, Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High). I’m sure there are many more.
Or we could allow any San Leandro resident with basic competence to apply and have the City Council and Mayor put together a Citizen’s Oversight Committee with people of different backgrounds. They could choose individuals based on the applicant’s record, vision for the future, and most importantly (indispensable) his or her commitment to protect, maintain and improve services to the people of San Leandro.
After all, that’s what the people of San Leandro voted for in November 2010.
I’m therefore asking you (Mayor Cassidy and the City Council) to rewrite the guidelines to greatly expand the number of San Leandro residents eligible to apply for the Measure Z oversight committee. The bottom line is that eligibility and selection should be much more inclusive and balanced. We need more consideration of the views of San Leandro residents and workers and the organizations that represent them.
There should be a reasonable time extension to reopen the application process for San Leandro residents to study the new criteria and apply.
San Leandro, CA