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Council Should Still Reject Library Parcel Tax

oakley library

The Oakley City Council put off a difficult decision for a few weeks in order to allow the Friends of the Oakley Library an opportunity to present a marketing plan of how they would gain support before putting it on voters to decide if moving the Library to downtown is a good idea.  If the council approves this parcel tax idea for converting the CentroMart building to a library, it’s not doing its job in looking out for Oakley’s best interest.

In what they are calling a “Library Improvement Parcel Tax”, it would require a 2/3 majority vote to pass which would create an annual $52 parcel tax in place for 30-years to fund a library which also increases its hours of operations.  On top of that, there is a 2% inflator to assist with cost of living increase.

In this economy, you better be darn sure that if you are spending $92,000 to put a parcel tax on the ballot, you better make sure it passes.  According to Diane Burgis, she stated that 9 of the last 12 library parcel tax votes have failed—2 of 3 that passed had been renewals.  That is proof enough voters may want a library, but they won’t pay for one.

The reality is this, give the library supporters two weeks, two months, I don’t really care as they could create the world’s best marketing and sales plan to present to the public;  it still doesn’t change the fact it’s a terrible idea.

The council needs to realize the idea is nice in theory, the voters will reject this and the council will have just handed $92,00 to the county.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a new library somewhere in Oakley, but not under this plan and not with a city staff and mayor who is trying to ram this proposal down our throats with misleading information. This is being rushed and we need to take a step back and think 3-steps down the road.

We already have a library and while it may not be perfect, at least we have one!  What we don’t have is enough prime downtown real estate that can become a revenue generator for the city.  It’s never a good idea to turn a city asset into a city liability—that spot should be reserved for retail and something that can generate sales tax.

More troubling, the city Staff Report was incomplete and was a “cheerleader report” when it was made available.

There was a lot of missing information that starts with the claim that 73% of those surveyed supported a $3, $4 or $5 a month tax.  This is misleading because nowhere in the survey could a voter reject this idea or say they would give $0 to the project—Councilpersons Diane Burgis and Doug Hardcastle were critical of the survey during the meeting (see below).

I think the biggest damage to the survey came when Councilwoman Burgis shared the results of the last citywide survey stating that just 14% of those surveyed said the library was poor–63% said the library was excellent or good. So you essentially have two conflicting surveys.

Also, the full results of the survey were never made available which is just manipulating the process.

According to the Contra Costa Times, a review of the completed survey — a document that wasn’t included among the supporting attachments the city posted online with Tuesday’s agenda — shows that only 44 to 78 people answered each question, a minute fraction of Oakley’s approximately 36,000 residents.

This means that 78 people answered the hard copy survey while the rest of the results came from online which bumped up the responses to 160.  It was a lazy survey that should be thrown out and recreated to gain more realistic support figure with full transparency from the start. A third-party with no horse in the race should conduct this next effort.

The city also took one groups opinion of what the best location out of many potential locations in Oakley is. A second opinion should have been sought after. I would prefer it at another location which could encompass a full community center next to a library and be a draw for everyone—downtown doesn’t fly with this idea no matter how they want to spin it using support of children who can’t even vote, its a terrible idea for the majority of Oakley.

But the real crime here is the city staff and mayors push to ram this through when the building may not even be Oakley’s if the State says “no”. While Mr. Montgomery contends Oakley would “re-purchase” the building, why would we want it and make the investment? The city needs to get out of this mindset and simply put the building up for bid a second time and promote it with an open mind.

Something forgot in the debate is that the Library wants 20,000 square feet, however, CentroMart is just 15,000 square feet. Now there is talk about a Community Center aspect when the building isn’t even big enough for what the library wants? Throw in the safety, environmental, and structure concerns and this becomes a giant money bit before its even deemed worthy of converting to a library. It may be better just to tear it down and build from scratch.

One would think the City and Library folks would have fully studied the building prior to ramming this through.

Finally, if the Friends of the Oakley Library truly want the CentroMart building and feel that strongly about it, they should put some skin in the game by funding the $92,000 themselves whether it passes or fails. I say this with all due respect, but the financials of the Friends of the Oakley Library should also be a part of the discussion. Could they even pay back the money if this passes? I doubt it because as Randy Pope points out, only $100 was raised.

The council needs to realize this plan stinks from the beginning and its time to work with the Friends of the Oakley Library on another location.

If the council says they have $92,000 in discretionary money laying around that they want to throw down the toilet on a parcel tax that will fail, then they need to realize they are better off giving that money to the police department. While they are doing a great job, they are understaffed and could really use that additional funds.

Ultimately, the library folks do deserve to go to the voters, but not with this poor plan and taking an asset and turning it to a liability. It’s time to find option 2 while working with other community stakeholders to find a more realistic and positive location that can encompass a community center.

This plan still stinks and providing marketing plan is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.

I meant what I said earlier this week, if the council approves this mail ballot, I will get a group of advocates to work against this project and kill the parcel tax. It’s nothing personal to my friends at the Oakley Library, but Oakley deserves better than this proposal.

Recap of some of the council discussion:

Carol Rios: Explained that she wanted to change the tax name from “Library Improvement Parcel Tax” to a Library Improvement/Community Center Tax”

Doug Hardcastle: wanted to confirm only parcel owners would be allowed to vote or not. Mr. Montgomery stated that all registered voters will be able to vote.

Randy Pope: Struggling with his head and heart over this… this isn’t what I expected back in October when I voted to move forward with this. It’s premature and we have to have the parcel tax survive. Parcel taxes have been voted down left and right— had a hard time supporting $100k for a single special election suggested piggy backing on another special election to bring down the cost hoping to cut it down to $25-50k.  Pope also explained how he thought the tax was too long at 30-years with a 2% potential increase. He would rather see a little more money at half the length—he preferred 15-years.

Diane Burgis: explained that the survey was misleading that 73% would support a $3, $4, or $5 a month tax because it didn’t allow for a choice of $0 or do not support the tax. Explained that last year, the City of Oakley did a survey and 1 part was about the library.

This is how they rated the library:

  • 63.9% said “excellent or good”
  • 21.8% said “fair”
  • 14% said “poor”

She continued that in politics, people use mail ballots because it’s the best way to pass a tax and its manipulative. She encouraged that if they move forward, this process needs to be transparent and ensure its what the public wants. She stated her preference to put this on a regular polling ballot even with the higher cost.

Bryan Montgomery inserted himself suggesting that they prefer to move this forward because there is no other tax they would be competing with.

Doug Hardcastle:  Wanted to bring up environmental concerns with the building and ensure there is not a “gotcha” moment down the road. Suggested more information is needed on the building with testing to see if the numbers are accurate.

Diane Burgis: She stated she went through past elections from 2008 to present. Stated the following facts:

  • There have been a total of 12 library parcel taxes on the ballot – just 33% passed.
  • 3 out of 12 library parcel taxes passed. 2 of those were extensions. 1 was a new tax at just $19 per year.
  • Last year, 6 of 6 library parcel taxes failed

Kevin Romick:  argued against Pope stating that you cannot compare the library to the fire tax because they are completely different. He supports the idea of a library in downtown Oakley because in his opinion “it makes sense and at the heart of our community”. He explained that we have the opportunity now to do it while no other building is available. Explained that if there is a delay, the opportunity could go away.  He shot back at Burgis by stating mail ballots are not deceptive, they are done to reduce cost.

Doug Hardcastle: Everybody is for feel good stuff but will everybody pay for feel good stuff he asked. He then stated that he is not a mathematician but said the survey did not show overwhelming support suggesting the survey was too small. Explained that thousands of others had to be convinced.

Bryan Montgomery: told Hardcastle that if you don’t approve the resolution  that “we will never know if it has support”.

Randy Pope: explained that he is not trying to kill this idea, but would rather take his time to ensure a successful measure. He urged the library folks to continue working on this and come up with a plan as originally stated back in October.  Wanted to see floor plans, plans for space, the coffee portion, the community center plan, he wanted to see how they would work to get this passed and sold to the public. He said that on something like this, voters won’t give you a second chance and it has to be done right.

Diane Burgis: Suggested that they be given two more weeks to present a plan of how they are going to make it win. Using Facbook and social media was not going to cut it. You’re asking for us to invest in an idea and we need to feel confident that we are spending the money and have people work on it with all their might. She wants to know the drawings, floor plans, retail aspect, and community benefit. She wants to see a plan for success before she could give it support or not.

Bryan Montgomery: Explained that the mail ballot vs. traditional poll ballot is steep in cost and potential passage. Stated that by going to a traditional vote over a mail ballot that the council would make it that much harder to pass if they didn’t do it now. Stated by doing this, you basically have lost five points.

The council basically ignored that advice and agreed to take it up at the Feb. 12 meeting on whether or not to proceed to an election.

Contra Costa Times
City of Oakley  Staff Report


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8 Responses »

  1. Message to Oakley:

    Stop digging. Put down the shovel!

    If you haven’t noticed this is a very bad time to ask for $$. Didn’t measure S wake you up to the fact that the voters are not favoring new taxes right now???? It’s not rocket science, it’s about setting realistic priorities-and right now another library isn’t it.

    Save the taxpayers 92k and save your dignity. Just say no.

  2. This council needs to grow a sack and just say no to this terrible idea. You are not voting down a library, you are voting down this plan. Make the tough decision and allow the library people to find another spot.

    This recap is very nice and more detailed than the Times piece. I would encourage Montgomery to put out and let the council make the decision. It’s obvious Montgomery wants this parcel tax on the ballot for whatever reason and Romick is with him on it. Burk said it best, this doesn’t pass the smell test.

  3. Do these people not realize they will get the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association to fight this battle on top of what Mr. Burkholder claims he will do. This thing is killed before it even starts. The council better realize what they are walking into before they make a stupid decision to push this forward and spend $92,000.

  4. Mr. Burkholder, I would encourage you to put Mr. Montgomery, Ms. Marquez and Mr. Romick on notice that they are there to provide the information to the public via a staff report that is honest, full of information and not a “cheerleader piece” as you state. I agree 100% with your comments here that this is a bad idea and they should seek another plan. This is like putting lipstick on a pig and voters will not support this idea.

  5. WOW I read the recap of the council discussion and was dumbfounded at Montgomery’s comments. What came to my mind was this “who the hell do you think you are? A member of the council??” This was a council discussion and his only part should have been to answer questions directed at him not making comments. He appears to be trying to steer the council to something he backs. But that isn’t his job. His job is to follow the councils direction not set policy. Way way over the line and it needs to be addressed.

    I know I am a broken record but if the city has $92,000 laying around to throw away, how come I have to drive a road that is riddled with runts, cracks, holes from lack of maintenance? There are way more important things that need to be addressed. We need to get a good retail sales tax base for this city to continue to exist. Its that plain and simple. There are way too many unanswered questions about the building, the survey, the friends of the library, ownership and safety of the building, etc, etc. Bad bad idea and for the city staff, city manager and mayor to be pushing this make it plain that something stinks to high heaven.

  6. If people are against it then they should speak up.

    It doesn’t sound like a lot of people are coming out against the idea except Mr Burkholder. If people like the Contra Costa Tax Payers Association are against it they should let the council know their opinions and intentions.

    It sounds to me like the city council is trying to be responsible (based on most of the councilpeople’s comments).

    It would be irresponsible and counter intuitive of those against it to let the city spend $100,000 without letting the council know ahead of time that they are against it and then to turn around and fight it.

    I think the city council was right to wait two weeks to get more information.

  7. No to the library

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