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Working Together to Help Solve Our Region's Problems

Editor’s note: In the spring of 2018, SPUR provided comments to improve a proposed vacant parcel tax measure (now Measure W) co-sponsored by Oakland City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan. We greatly appreciate the time Councilmember Kaplan spent with us and the changes she made to the measure at our suggestion. The following letter from Councilmember Kaplan is a companion piece to the Oakland section of the SPUR Voter Guide.


Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss some of the ways we can better unite for the health and vitality of our region. I have been pleased to have the opportunity to incorporate the great suggestions of SPUR into our local legislation. In addition to working on Oakland policy, I also value our regional collaboration. Oakland sits at the heart of the Bay region and suffers disproportionately from the impacts of regional problems like truck pollution and a shortage of affordable housing. Oakland is also at the heart of solutions, from clean-fuel technology to transit-oriented development. As the only Oakland official to have served on the regional Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) Board in the last three decades, I know that our problems, from traffic congestion to housing scarcity to air pollution are region-wide and need all of us working together to fix them.

At the local level, I appreciated suggestions from SPUR (highlighted in a SPUR policy letter) that amended our proposed vacant property tax to fund homeless solutions and blight remediation. This item, Measure W, helps reduce abandoned properties by taxing only those in use less than 50 days per year. So if a property is in use once a week, such as for a weekly farmer’s market, it would be considered “in use.” A property xould also be “in use” by hosting a pop-up for a couple months. The tax exempts projects underway or under permitting and provides for a low-income exemption. Thus, we can help reduce the problem of absentee owners who are leaving property in an abandoned state, thereby reducing the supply of housing and other needs. At the same time, the money raised will support programs to remedy blight, help the homeless and clean up trash on our streets. This includes funding to help property owners fix up their properties to rent them out as affordable housing, so property owners get a "carrot" and not just a "stick" in this proposal.  

I also appreciated SPUR's further comments to the item, which resulted in important amendments for a more effective strategy. I and my co-sponsor Councilmember Guillen each sat down and met with SPUR. We made two additional changes that strengthened the measure, including limiting the geography of the tax and creating a reauthorization date for the tax.

The Measure as forwarded to the ballot includes significant content from SPUR and we thank SPUR for these important contributions and suggestions.

As many of our cities are grappling with the twin problems of homelessness on the one hand and a large number of vacant properties on the other hand, we can work together and learn from one another, and from other cities like Vancouver, B.C., and Washington, D.C., which have vacant property tax systems of their own. In fact, since Oakland voted to place this measure on the November ballot, the City of Richmond has now done so as well. We are expanding our regional collaboration on homeless solutions and other strategies as we worked together with Richmond officials and others. Measure W is endorsed by many respected leaders and organizations, including the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club and Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Going forward, we also need more regional collaboration because our housing market is not confined to one city. As long as any part of our region is worsening the jobs-housing imbalance, everyone in our region will suffer from the housing shortage, even if our own city is not the source of the imbalance. We need to amend our codes to allow more housing density, and lower parking requirements, with affordable housing on transit corridors — as I am proposing in Oakland.

And we need a region-wide housing funding system in which those jurisdictions who contribute to the imbalance (those who fail to produce adequate housing, including affordable housing) pay into funds that are used to support housing development, including affordable and workforce housing.

Oakland has long been a leader in innovative solutions and can also be part of region-wide efforts. We can build policies that are compassionate and effective — that help produce more housing at all income levels and prevent displacement while also reducing congestion and pollution.

Thank you for the conversation.


Rebecca Kaplan
Oakland City Councilmember At-Large