Monday, March 31, 2014

Opt Out of the Garbage Snooping Fee

If you're like most, you probably don't like the idea of the government eavesdropping on your phone conversations or scanning through your e-mail. But how do you feel about the government snooping through your garbage? That's what's happening right now all across Alameda County under a program called Benchmark Service. It's a program of the Waste Management Authority, where random inspections of people's garbage containers (and those of businesses as well) are documented and reported.

The supposed purpose of this program is to measure the amount of garbage, recyclable, and compostable materials being discarded as garbage. It's promoted as anonymous, but the audits take place at the point of collection (your home or business) rather than at a transfer station. Why? Apparently the Authority is not merely interested in the general proportioning or total amount of collected materials, but rather the specifics of what and where it was collected. Can you say Green Police?

If this is something you support, then move your welcome mat out to the curb on collection days. If it's something you oppose, opt out of paying the fee that funds the program (today is the last day).

Opting out won't save you enough money to buy a new environmentally friendly car, but at least it'll give you the satisfaction of knowing you're not supporting more government snooping.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"No On C" Signs

It won't be long before you start seeing some fancy "Yes on C" campaign materials distributed by an organization called the "Committee to Protect Hayward's Future."  They'll show images of noble fire fighters, police officers, and of course, adorable little children reading books, aww.

The deep pockets that fund these campaigns for higher taxes (yeah, you know who they are) are preying on the fears of the gullible who believe that if we don't grow the city's payroll by passing this tax, our future and that of our children will go unprotected.

Do not dismiss the effectiveness of this obvious ploy. After all, it worked just 5-years ago to pass the 5½-percent utility tax. Why wouldn't they come back for more using the very same arguments and images from their prior campaign?

On this side of the struggle, all we have is a grassroots effort. There are no committees and no special interests funding anything here--no professional websites, no flashy mailers, and no print shop signs. All we have is this humble blog and its companion Facebook page.

With no funding, we're at a huge disadvantage when attempting to reach out to the disconnected and the uninformed. Therefore, if you believe enough is enough, and that the City needs to operate within its means just as you and everyone you know has to, then get involved and spread the word.

Make your own signs. You can use the files I've created here to print paper signs and post them in the windows of your home, your business, and on bulletin boards at the office, club, or other gathering places. (Of course, be respectful and only post signs or flyers where you have authority or permission.)

Now I'm no graphic artist; so if there's anyone out there who can do better (as I'm sure there are), please contact me and propose/prepare alternative sign designs. I'll post or add a link to any decent new designs. So be sure to visit here again anytime before the election for possible updates.

All files are in the portable document format (PDF)

Single 8½ x 11 letter size sheet  "NO ON C"

Single 8½ x 14 legal size sheet  "NO ON C"

Single 11 x 17 ledger size sheet  "NO ON C"

Three 8½ x 11 letter size sheets  "NO ON C"
  • horizontal/landscape format:  red font

Copy and Print Services in Hayward: Yelp list

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Submitted Argument Against Measure C

This past Friday was the last day to submit arguments for possible inclusion in the official voter information pamphlets for the June 3, 2014 election. For Hayward's sales tax measure, now designated as Measure C, I submitted the text below as an argument against. Strict rules limit the number of words that can be used to no more than 300, so I presented my narrative in a rhetorical question style for greater effect. Will these words actually find their way into the voter's pamphlets? Probably not. So here they are now for your consideration...

Why does the City believe it’s entitled to greater relief from the effects of the recession and future inflationary costs than its residents and businesses?

Why does the City contend that it has over half-a-billion dollars in unmet capital needs, yet provides no reference to any document supporting this incredible claim? Why does the City’s Capital Improvement Program list unfunded capital projects valued at $325M of which more than half this amount can be attributed to Caltrans interchange projects traditionally funded by federal, state, and regional sources?

Why is the City proposing a $60M library that is 50-percent more costly than even the most expensive new Bay Area library built within the past decade? How will the City afford to stock, staff, and otherwise operate this proposed three story facility that would be more than twice the size of the existing?

Why does the City believe that it’s managing its finances responsibly when the 20-highest compensated city employees in 2012 each received a quarter-of-a-million dollars or more in salary and benefits? Or when the top six received more than $300,000 in compensation—nearly six times Hayward’s median household income?

Why hasn’t the city’s existing supplemental taxes (the emergency facilities tax and the 5.5-percent utility tax) accomplished what they were intended to do? Why is the City not concerned by the burden that this unprecedented combination of taxes will have on Hayward’s residents and businesses? Why is the City not concerned that this measure in combination with the possible augmentation of the county transportation sales tax will set Hayward’s sales tax rate at an even 10-percent?

Why does the City believe that its residents and businesses are an endless source of revenue?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

City proceeds with tax measure citing “very strong support”

Last night the Hayward City Council unanimously approved a resolution to place a 1/2-cent city sales tax measure on the June 2014 ballot. It did so on the recommendation by staff who had previously declared that potential voters showed "very strong support" for the tax increase.

Apparently, a sampled group of likely voters indicated support to the tune of 66-percent, according to the city's consultant, Godbe Research. However, this group was only effectively exposed to the City’s one-sided message. The research consultant warned that support could quickly erode should the electorate be exposed to counter arguments without a sustained campaign in favor of the measure. To foster such a campaign, the Council previously approved $114,000 in consultant fees for "outreach and education." Never-the-less, I expect voter support to be fleeting as it simply doesn't make sense for a truly informed electorate to approve such a measure.

Many reasons exist as to why voters should oppose this tax increase, and I’ll elaborate on them in the coming months. But for the moment, I want to touch on just a few to get the conversation started.

Let’s begin with the absurdity of the City’s claim that it has over half-a-billion dollars (that’s a five with eight zeroes behind it) in unfunded needs and that only an additional half-cent of every future dollar sale will get us by. This kind of claim requires some scrutiny. We ought to be taking a closer look at these supposed needs, and in particular, the justification and alternatives to each. The latest report of the Capital Improvement Program provides a laundry list of city desired projects with no identified funding that total $325-million. Having perused this list I can assure you that not all of these projects are critical and that the expected augmentation of Measure B will fund a substantial number of the most expensive of them.

Next let’s examine the lack of funding. After all, we do pay a plethora of taxes: property taxes, sales taxes, an emergency facilities tax, and a utility tax. We also pay other taxes and fees, such as the gas tax, Measure B tax, vehicle licensing fees, etc. which provides the City with millions of dollars in grants each year. Where exactly does all this money go, if not to the city's most critical needs?

The San Jose Mercury News - Public Employee Salaries Database offers a clue. A query of the latest available data (from 2012) reveals that the City’s 20-highest compensated employees (including a contract employee) each took home a quarter-of-a-million dollars or more in salary and benefits. In fact, there were a half-dozen employees whose compensation was north of $300,000 in that single year. That’s nearly six times the median household income of Hayward residents and more than many small businesses earn in annual revenue.  One has to wonder if voters strongly favor this as well. Because this is the reality of what a general fund sales tax actually supports.

Click on the chart above to view a more detailed and expanded PDF version.

Then there has to be the consideration of impact to business in the city. The City's position, supported by its revenue enhancement consultant, Muniservices, is that the impact will be negligible. I don't think so. If approved in conjunction with the almost certain passage of the County Transportation sales tax measure (another Council supported initiative), Hayward's sales tax will be an even 10-percent. This will make it the highest in the state, a distinction that will be shared by only five other cities in this state of 478 (assuming no additional tax increases occur at other highly taxed cities). If you believe this is negligible, think again.

A 10-percent sales tax will have an adverse impact for several reasons. First, it passes a psychological threshold that is known to influence sales. Retailers set prices at $9.99 instead of $10 for a reason. Second, while the new higher rate might not drive smaller purchases to surrounding communities, it will almost certainly drive more small purchases to out-of-state retailers via the Internet. Larger purchases will most definitely be driven to neighboring communities as the difference can be substantial. For example, if a contractor needs to purchase $50,000 in building supplies, why would he buy them at the Hayward Home Depot when he could drive down Crow Canyon Road and buy them at the San Ramon Home Depot for a savings of $750 (10% tax rate vs. 8.5% tax rate)? And finally and perhaps most importantly, having the highest sales tax rate in the state, in conjunction with our other special taxes, basically screams that Hayward is unfriendly toward business. This equates to a critical fail as the city's real future revenue growth stems from a thriving business community.

If the City would only focus this much staff time, consultant time, and precious funds on fostering and attracting new business as it has on this effort of taxation, our economic forecast would be far more encouraging and positively sustainable.