Fact Check: Competing claims on Measure C
Fact Check: Competing claims on Measure C
Welcome to the maiden voyage of our new Fact Check feature, which is designed to help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of political discourse in Alameda. Today we tackle the Measure C campaign and specifically, four claims posted on the campaign websites for and against the proposed 30-year, half-cent sales tax hike, which is slated to fund public safety vehicles and equipment and help pay for a new pool and renovations to the main library and the old Carnegie Library.
Preserving Alameda claim:“The City's Emergency Operation (sp)Center (EOC) was built in 1978 and is located in the basement of the Police Administration Building. This location is unsuitable in an area prone to earthquakes and the risk of liquefaction.”
Since it goes without saying that the entire Bay Area is prone to earthquakes, we looked specifically at the liquefaction claim in this statement.
“It’s all in how it’s sliced and diced,” Association of Bay Area Governments spokeswoman Leah Zippert said.
A liquefaction hazard map generated by the United States Geological Service and posted to both the ABAG and USGS websites shows that less than 1 percent of the area of town the police department headquarters where the EOC is now located is predicted to liquefy in a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Street level analyses based on state and federal data are split. One analysis shows the liquefaction susceptibility of the area as moderate and another focused on liquefaction hazard showing that the site is in a liquefaction zone.
“But pretty much all of Alameda is defined as a liquefaction zone,” Lippert said of the second analysis.
That said, ABAG’s liquefaction maps come with a caveat: They’re not to be used as a substitute for for a site-specific investigation by a licensed geologist or geotechnical engineer.
Milking Alameda claim: “The Measure C tax can be used “(b)asically, for anything that Alameda City Council deems fit.”
Section 3-63.14 of the ordinance that would guide the collection and use of the tax if approved by voters offers an expenditure plan for the money as required by section 7285.91 of California’s Revenue and Taxation code. It says the city can only use the money for “police, fire and other public safety facilities and equipment; parks and recreation facilities and equipment; cultural facilities; and funding for one position to serve as Emergency Operations Coordinator.” It offers examples of authorized projects that include fire station replacement, an emergency operations center, police and fire vehicles, a police/fire joint training facility, and public swim facilities.
While city leaders have offered a list of projects that they say will be funded by the tax and a timeline for getting those started, the ordinance also offers this line, which opponents have keyed in on: “The City Council may choose not to pursue any particular project listed among those examples, may substitute unidentified but similar projects for those listed, and may decided (sp) the order in which projects are initiated and completed, as long as expenditures of revenue from the tax are consistent with the general categories of projects listed in this section.” And Milking Alameda spokesman David Howard said the group has since changed its spiel to say the language permits any project it sees fit (though we checked the FAQ on MA’s website Wednesday night that the original language was still there).
According to the city attorney’s impartial analysis, the tax money can’t be used for “anything” – it says the council is prohibited from using the money to replace general fund money budgeted for normal operations at the previous year’s service levels. And in an April 5 opinion on opponents’ request to pull Measure C from the ballot, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed with opponents’ claims that the ballot contained false or misleading language based on this “built in escape clause.”
“The court finds that including this provision makes it neither false nor misleading as it limits the Council’s discretion to ‘similar projects for those listed’ and expenditures that are ‘consistent with the general categories of projects listed in this section.’ Thus, it does not give the City Council unfettered discretion as to projects upon which to spend these funds.”
Milking Alameda claim: “A 2009 study of Alameda Fire Department operations suggested closing Fire Station #3, and re-opening Fire Station #5, at Alameda Point. Fire Station #3 doesn’t need to be rebuilt.”
The 2009 study referenced by Milking Alameda was conducted by the International City/County Management Association at the city’s behest, and it did recommend shuttering Fire Station 3 or operating Station 5 at Alameda Point, which was eventually closed, at a reduced level. The study’s authors cited standards that recommend fire engine companies be placed at a distance of 1.5 miles apart and ladder companies, two miles apart (though we looked up the standard and what we read said 2.5 miles apart) and the fact that Fire Station 3 needs to be rebuilt. The study also recommended the city sell Fire Station 3 and its condemned training tower to help fund a training center, which its authors said could be used by all city departments and be constructed with the aid of federal grant money and other agencies that would seek to use it.
We asked City Manager John Russo about whether the city had looked into these suggestions and if not, why not. Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen said the report never went to the council for its consideration or review. (We couldn’t find evidence the council considered it directly either, though minutes from a council meeting where it was mentioned showed that then-Councilman Frank Matarrese, who has endorsed the tax measure, had “very little faith” in the report.)
“There are some minutes that reflect comments about the study, but again, no actions and no full staff report given,” Nguyen said in an e-mail. “ I cannot speak as to what the former administrations' intentions were or the reasoning behind their actions - or lack thereof.”
We also asked Nguyen for the paper trail regarding the condition of Fire Station 3. We'll let you know if we get anything back on that.
Milking Alameda claim:“(E)stimates are that Alameda could save $2 million per year by contracting with Alameda County for fire protection.”
We pressed Milking Alameda spokesman Howard for a little more information on the origin of this claim.
“I'm aware of no written report,” Howard responded to our query. “This came from informal conversations between Ann Marie Gallant and the County Fire Chief, where the message was that rule-of-thumb savings are roughly 10%, largely from consolidating administrative/senior management overhead. The City of Alameda FD budget is $20 million to $25 million, hence 10% of that is $2 million to $2.5 million.”
Alameda County Fire Chief Sheldon Gilbert confirmed that then-Interim City Manager Gallant called and “asked some general questions relating to our consolidation model and our experience in savings.” He said the rule of thumb is that contracting with the county could save a city 10 percent, “but that depends on what service levels they want.”
“I would say that is an assumption based on other cities’ experiences that have contracted with Alameda County fire,” said Gilbert, who said whether that would come to fruition here would depend on a detailed statement of work and proposal.
“It’s not impossible. But it’s not necessarily probable either,” Gilbert said.