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North Bay ballot proposes housing, fire protection measures

November 1, 2018

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North Bay ballot proposes housing, fire protection measures

For this year’s midterm elections, the North Bay — Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties — have various measures on the ballot pertaining to the region’s housing, infrastructure, school districts, and prosperous hospitality and tourism industries. Several other proposed measures increase funding for fire protection and paramedic services in response to last year’s firestorm that devastated the area.

Here’s a list of each county’s prominent measures for SF State students who live and work in the region.

Marin County

Measure AA: This measure is a county transportation sales tax renewal to extend a tax passed in 2004 as part of a 20-year transportation plan to reduce local traffic congestion.

A two-thirds vote in favor of the measure would implement a new 30-year transportation plan and authorize the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) to continue a .5 percent tax on retail transactions. The proceeds — which would yield about $27 million annually over the next 30 years — would be used to improve local transportation infrastructure and provide more public transportation options, intending to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Those in favor of the measure — such as Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber and Ann Batman, vice president of Marin County’s League of Women Voters — say it would protect local roads from flooding, help relieve traffic congestion for commuters on Highway 101, and provide funds to build a connector from Highway 101 to the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, all without increasing the current tax rate.

Opponents of the measure, such as President of the Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers (COST) Mimi Willard and others from COST, say TAM’s 30-year plan is too long and not comprehensive or transparent enough. They recommend a 10-year plan that specifies “each project’s funding allocation, impact on traffic congestion and number of people benefiting.”

If the measure is not approved, the existing sales tax passed in 2004 would remain in effect until it expires in March 31, 2025.

Measures K, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U and V: Each of these measures are to support the funding of paramedic and emergency medical services within the county, namely in Larkspur, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Ross, San Anselmo, County Service Area No. 27, Kentfield, Sleepy Hollow, Southern Marin and Stinson Beach. After the fires that swept across Sonoma and Napa counties last year, which saw a lack of emergency response, Marin doesn’t seem to be taking any chances when it comes to fire and first responder services.

All of the measures (with the exceptions of N, U and V) would uniformly renew for four years a special tax for paramedic services. Measures N, U and V would authorize their own special taxes or set appropriation limits to fund local emergency medical response and fire protection.  

Proponents of these measures include Corte Madera councilmember Sloan Bailey, Fairfax councilmember John Reed, Ross Mayor P. Beach Kuhl, San Anselmo Mayor John Wright, Supervisor Katie Rice, and many others. No arguments have been filed with the county against any of these measures. Many of those in favor say the measures will help fund firefighting and paramedic ambulance services that are critical to saving lives and responding to natural disasters.

Measure W: Known as the West Marin Transient Occupancy Tax, this measure would increase the tax rate for hotels and short-term rentals from 10 to 14 percent and additionally establish a 4 percent tax for commercial campground guests. The tax would raise approximately $1.3 million annually and would be used to enhance long-term community housing as well as fire and emergency services.

Those in favor include Suzanne Sadowsky, chair of the San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Association, and Maureen Cornella, president of the Community Land Trust of West Marin. Sadowsky, Cornella and other proponents claim that the increase in short-term rentals has led to a shortage in affordable housing and the influx in tourist congestion has hindered first responders’ capabilities. They say this measure would support affordable housing for low-income individuals and expand first responder adeptness by recruiting, staffing and equipping fire houses.

Opponents, such as Jeff Harriman, owner of Tomales Bay Resort and Marina, Steve Doughty, owner of Point Reyes Vineyard Inn, and other bed and breakfast proprietors argue that the tax increase would burden local businesses while not providing adequate funding for all its goals.

Napa County

Every measure on Napa County’s ballot except one involves a tax to fund affordable workforce housing.

Measures E, F, H and S: All these measures are for hotel tax increases for St. Helena, Napa, American Canyon and Yountville, respectively. If approved, each measure would increase the hotel tax rate from 12 to 13 percent in its city to fund programs and services for affordable workforce housing.

The measure stipulates that the revenue generated from the tax must be spent on the construction, preservation and maintenance of new affordable, workforce housing. Furthermore, these new housing units must be rented or sold to those who make up to 120 percent of area median income or less.

Supporters of the measures include St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith, Napa Valley Community Housing CEO Kathleen D. Reynolds and American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia. Proponents say the measures would make housing more available and affordable for working residents, provide housing assistance programs and ease traffic congestion by establishing housing closer to workplaces. No official oppositions were filed against the measures.

Sonoma County

Along with five measures to issue bonds to upgrade local school districts’ facilities and technology, Sonoma County’s most prominent measures center largely around housing, conservation, and fire protection and recovery.

Measure M: This measure is designed to allocate funds to the region’s numerous parks to improve and safeguard water supplies, wildlife habitats and community trails through an eighth of a cent sales tax increase for 10 years. The measure would provide an estimated $11.5 million annually, with citizens’ oversight and annual audits.

The Press Democrat, Greenbelt Alliance and several other organizations and community members support the measure, saying it would protect water quality and reduce risks to local wildlife while improving access to visitors. The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association opposes it, “arguing that public employee pensions have siphoned away money that should have been used for libraries, parks, road repairs and fire services,” according to the Petaluma Argus-Courier.

Measure N: During the October 2017 North Bay fires, Santa Rosa lost 4,658 homes. This measure is a housing recovery bond to issue $124 million for the construction of about 1,200 affordable housing units in the city for low and middle-income families and vulnerable populations, such as seniors, veterans, homeless people and those who are disabled. An estimated property tax of $29 per $100,000 of assessed value would pay for the bonds, levying approximately $8.6 million annually.

Several local organizations and community leaders have endorsed the measure, including the Press Democrat, which stated in an editorial that the measure “would help ease the housing crunch.” The North Bay Labor Council opposes the measure, with its executive director Jack Buckhorn claiming the measure provides inadequate labor protections while enriching city developers.

Measure O: The City of Santa Rosa is seeking a .25 percent sales tax to fund recovery from the October 2017 fires and support emergency services. The tax would generate an estimated $9 million annually and would fund street and sidewalk repairs, firefighting infrastructure rebuilding, updating emergency communications systems, and improving emergency response times and police patrols.

Proponents of the measure include Mayor of Santa Rosa Chris Coursey, former mayor Janet Condron and Oscar A. Pardo, a resident of Coffey Park, which was hit the hardest by the Tubbs Fire. They say that fighting the fires and the subsequent cleanup and rebuilding has drained the city’s emergency reserves, and this six-year emergency relief measure would ensure funding for restoration and fire prevention plans.

An opponent of the measure, Daniel A. Drummond, executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, says that the phrase “for unrestricted general fund purposes” stated within the measure indicates that the city council can do anything they want with the funds, and he doesn’t trust them to use it as intended.

Measure P: In the midst of a housing crisis in the Bay Area, and after last year’s fires demolished thousands of homes, the City of Healdsburg is seeking to amend its growth management ordinance to permit the construction of about 50 additional multi-family, income-restricted rental units a year.

The current ordinance limits the city’s number of building permits to 30 per year; however, low-income and affordable units are currently exempt from this restriction. If approved, the amended ordinance stipulates that the 50 additional building permits a year be multi-family rentals and “subject to a deed restriction requiring that the units be rented only to tenants earning no more than 160 percent of the Sonoma County Area Median Income,” according to the ballot summary.

Supporters of the measure include Vice Mayor David Hagele and city council members Shaun McCaffery, Leah Gold and Joe Naujokas, who claim the measure would meet the city’s housing demand for working families, even if it’s a partial solution to the housing crisis. There has been no formal campaign in opposition to the measure.

Measures T, U, V, W, X and Y: These measures, with the exception of Measure V, would enact parcel taxes to fund fire and emergency services in Glen Ellen, Monte Rio, Rancho Adobe, Schell-Vista and Valley of the Moon. Measure V would allow the North Sonoma Coast Fire Protection District to set its annual spending limit at $3 million to obtain, operate and maintain fire and life safety services and equipment.

The measures, including Measure O, are largely in response to last year’s fires that ravaged areas of the North Bay, leaving first responders overwhelmed and showing emergency services were not up to par, according to KQED.

Some of the proponents of these measures include the Sonoma Index-Tribune, president of the Glen Ellen Firefighters Association Kristin Nightingale, City of Cotati Mayor Mark Landman and Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Stephen A. Akre. Supporters say these measures will help beef up staff and resources at fire stations, pay stipends for trained volunteers and fund outreach to educate the community on fire safety. No arguments against any of these measures were submitted to the ballot.

Starting her journalism career at Santa Rosa Junior College, Maci has taken on the role of news and managing editor as well as a co-editor-in-chief at student-newspaper The Oak Leaf. She began her pursuit for a bachelor's in journalism at SF State in Fall 2017. In the fall of 2018, she joined the Golden Gate Xpress staff as the copy editor.
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