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By Tim Hunt

Bay Area United Way issues its political recommendations

Uploaded: Oct 15, 2020

Amid the flood of campaign emails and postcards in the mail, I was struck by a voting guide issued by the United Way Bay Area.

The nonprofit group covers the entire Bay Area after its merger with United Way of the Silicon Valley in 2016. The voter guide covers seven statewide propositions and four county measures.

Some background is helpful. Back in the early 1980s, United Way was the nonprofit that big employers used for paycheck charitable deductions. San Francisco was the dominant corporate site in the Bay Area and United Way owned that market. Then the shift to suburban business parks started -- think Bishop Ranch in San Ramon (huge facilities from PacBell and Chevron) and Hacienda Business Park (AT&T Western Regional Headquarters).

Just like today, companies saw they could lower costs and expand their potential employee base by moving into suburban office parks. At that time, the United Way business model was allocating grants to "member agencies." There was just one member agency in the Livermore Valley, the Valley Volunteer Center. When it was named a member agency, it was front page news.

In this same time frame, encouraged by Hacienda developer Joe Callahan, a group of us formed the Tri-Valley Community Foundation. We had the temerity to think local employees should have a local option to give in the workplace. We gained no traction with the big national firms, but broke through with locally oriented groups such as the school districts, the cities and the two national labs in Livermore.

As the workplace continued to evolve, United Way and employers found far more employees wanted to designate their gifts for a specific organization instead of its umbrella fund. It had become a processing agency.

In this window, our foundation and United Way started cooperating and I served on both the Alameda County and big board of United Way. Those were the days when that board was, almost by definition, dysfunctional with about 75 members.

Since then, United Way evolved its mission to focus on reducing poverty in poor neighborhoods in its core area. Sadly, the Tri-Valley Community Foundation because of mismanagement by its president is now out of business.

In its current business model, the United Way leadership decided to venture into the political arena with positions on ballot measures. For instance, it favors Proposition 15 that would change the historic property tax rates established by Prop 13 in 1968. This would create the split roll and allow business properties to be reassessed annually. Proponents say it will put between $7.5 billion and $12 billion annually into local government and school agencies.

The measure is strongly backed by public employee labor unions concerned that their long-term salary growth will be limited by soaring costs of public employee pension funds.

United Way also supports Prop 16 that would inject racial preferences into government contracting and higher educational institutions by repealing Prop 209 that banned them in 1996 (that passed by almost a two-thirds margin). Proponents argue this will help Laxtinx and Black Californians who are under-represented in higher education institutions. It's ironic because high-achieving Asians already face much higher standards to be admitted (see discrimination cases that are facing Harvard and Yale). A questioning person might ask how well affirmative action has worked now that there's decades of history.

United Way also supports Prop 17 that would restore voting rights for ex-felons on parole as well as Prop 18 that would permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if their 18th birthday occurs before the general election.

It opposes Prop 19 the property tax transfer that would allow homeowners 55 years and older to retain their property tax if they move to a new home. It is neutral on Prop 21, rent control and supports Prop. 25 that would affirm the State Legislature's elimination of cash bail.

Locally, it supports Measure X in Contra Costa County that would raise the sales tax by a half cent for the county's general fund, as well as Alameda County's Measure W that would raise the already high county sales tax by another half cent to pay for county services such as mental health for veterans, homeless prevention programs and more shelters. It's notable that sales taxes are the most regressive form of taxation and hit poorer people such as those United Way is targeting much harder than wealthier folks.

I pulled the California Democratic Party's recommendations from its executive board and they aligned on six statewide measures, differing only on Prop 19 and Prop 21.

It's easy to see what perspective the United Way leadership brings to the table. I reached out for comment and did not receive a return call.