By Tim Hunt
A mystery map with a price tagUploaded: Sep 27, 2012
My neighbors and I living on Foothill Road were surprised last month to discover that the Legislature had managed to add yet another fee to our homes.
CalFire officials determined that we lived in an area that should be hit with the $150 fee that the Legislature established for fire prevention activities in areas where the state is responsible. It covers 31 million square miles and is supposed to generate about $84 million in revenues.
In its efforts to free up general fund money, the Legislature deducted that amount from the CalFire operating budget based on calculations that the agency was spending an equal amount of money in fire prevention activities that range from clearing brush to arson investigations. There are in-house legal opinions that the "fee" was legal and not a tax requiring a two-thirds vote to enact. It has not been tested in court.
What's remarkable for my neighborhood, which is in unincorporated Alameda County, is the absurdity of the map. Most of the Castlewood Country Club was exempted, while the lower portion along with our homes along Foothill Road was included in the fee area. Most of the two golf courses were exempted, yet the two holes across from our properties were included. It's even more curious when you remember that the Castlewood area was identified as an area at-risk for an Oakland Hills inferno based upon the wonderful mature trees that surround many homes.
It's a mystery how the map was drawn since all of the areas in question are unincorporated and all are covered by the Livermore Pleasanton Fire Department as first responder.
We have formally protested and are not alone. And, of course, that will just add to the CalFire work load as presumably rational people try to sort out irrational maps.
The core issue driving the governor's office and Legislative was preserving revenues in the general fund to avoid further cuts; thus a "creative" source of additional revenues.
This one smacks of a tax increase despite the legal eagles' opinions that it is a legitimate user fee.
Just when I think I have a handle on all of the government organizations that will have tax increases on the November ballot, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors struck again.
It turns out that the tax-loving supervisors have given voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to approve a $12 annual parcel tax to support the Oakland zoo. This is a classic "feel-good" proposal for the annual cost of three lattes at Starbucks.
What's missing in Measure A1 is the broader question of why homeowners should be supporting a private non-profit organization's operations and capital improvement plans. That's not a knock on the Oakland zoo; it is a question for the supervisors of why this non-profit is so important that it deserves government support through a special tax.
Remember, we already pay half-cent extra sales tax for transportation operations and improvements with the "opportunity" to double that tax to a penny and make it permanent. We also pay an extra half-cent for medical care, primarily the county hospital.
Check your tax bill and you will also find special voter-approved taxes for mosquito abatement as well as the East Bay Regional Park District's trail maintenance fee that was slipped by residents in the guise of an assessment district that avoided a public vote.
Consider your votes carefully when the ballots arrive. The elected officials from a variety of agencies have put forth measures to reach more deeply into your wallets.