Mmm, KK?: Last year, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver detailed how this country is frighteningly negligent when it comes to repairs for roads, bridges, dams, and infrastructure. "We tend to find it a bit boring," he said of the problem — which is why hardly anyone complains when funds aren't spent on fixes. But, when those roads crumble, bridges collapse, and dams crack ...
Here in the East Bay, it's no secret that Oakland's streets are rough — as in riddled with potholes, busted sidewalks, and dubiously safe bike lanes. In fact, the mayor's office informed the Express last week that there's a $450 million service backlog of street-paving and repair work. That's not a minor to-do list.
Enter Measure KK. If two-thirds voters pass KK on Election Day, it will greenlight some $350 million in bonds to make a dent in that road-repair deficit.
But proponents tout that the initiative will do more than just fix streets. The measure also earmarks $150 million in bonds to upgrade city facilities, such as libraries, parks, and fire stations; and another $100 million in bonds to invest in affordable housing.
That all sounds great — but questions remain: Should the city approve what will be, after interest, more than a billion dollars in bonds to pay for all this? Oh, and will it be spent equitably citywide?
The measure has big support at City Hall. Led by Mayor Libby Schaaf, and with council members Annie Campbell-Washington and Abel Guillen on board, a coalition filed ballot language this past Friday. Developers and transportation groups are also in favor.
If anyone is going to oppose Measure KK in November, rebuttal ballot language is due this Friday with the city clerk.
Yet with more than five measures on the City of Oakland ballot, in addition to seventeen statewide propositions and numerous other county measures, will these myriad asks for public dollars — and, frankly, a little bit of ballot fatigue — have voters seeing "Zzz" by the time they get around to voting on KK?
Matt Nichols, the mayor's policy director for infrastructure and transportation, doesn't think so. "[People] want things fixed," he summed up. "They're frustrated by really crowded BART trains, by pot holes, by displacement from their housing."
Measure KK is being presented as a complementary measure to the county's $580 million low-income-housing bond, Measure A1. Both initiatives would permit local governments to acquire and fix-up property, so as to increase affordable-housing stock.
But the meat of Measure KK would be spent on mending roads — this despite ballot language that portrays the measure as a solution to Oakland's affordability crisis.
"Rental rates in Oakland have increased 34% since 2011 and the median housing price has doubled since 2010," the ballot argument in favor of KK begins, with nary a mention of busted streets until paragraphs later.
Anyway, if passed, homeowners would be taxed upon the issuance of any bonds, which supporters say will occur incrementally. So, for instance, if the city allotted $200 million in Measure KK bonds, supporters stated that a home with a median assessed value of $250,000 would pay approximately $65 annually.
But can homeowners feel confident that Measure KK dollars will be spent in their neighborhoods? Nichols argues yes, citing what he called the measure's social-equity component — "which is really something new" — which would require review from a citizen-oversight committee to ensure that funds are spent fairly citywide. "That's been the concern: Is this money going to be spent in my neighborhood? People want to make sure the improvements get to their neighborhoods," he acknowledged.
And, if passed, the process for how to spend KK money will be anything but boring.
Oakland and Berkley Ballot Bonanza: In addition to Measure KK, there are four other initiatives on the Oakland ballot — and eleven for City of Berkeley voters.
Notably, Oaklanders will vote on a one-cent-per-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax (see page eight for more on Measure HH debate), renter protections (Measure JJ), and a police commission (Measure LL).
The City of Berkeley has its own aging-infrastructure bond, the $100 million Measure T1, two different taxes on rental and residential units to fund more affordable housing, a citizens redistricting committee proposal (Measure W1), public financing of political campaigns (Measure X1), renter protections (Measure AA), and two minimum wage ordinances.
Look for a rundown of this ballot bonanza next month.