OAK
Measure C
Library Parcel Tax
Ordinance
Library Services Retention and Enhancement Act Extension

Extends a 1994 parcel tax to fund the Oakland Public Library for the next 30 years.

Vote YES

Jump to SPUR’s Recommendation

What the Measure Would Do

Measure C would extend a parcel tax currently set to expire in 2024 for another 30 years. The Oakland Public Library would use the funds to:

  • Keep libraries open a minimum of six days per week (with the Main Library open seven days per week) and increase weekend hours.
  • Expand library collections, including acquisition of new books and materials, upgrade information technology and improve access to computers.
  • Operate an African American museum and library program.
  • Increase joint educational activities with local schools and operate the joint school-public library in East Oakland.
  • Retain children’s librarians in every facility.
  • Support programming (tutoring, literacy, information technology, etc.) for teens, youth, unhoused populations and lifelong learners.

The tax would apply to both residential and nonresidential properties and includes four exemptions:

  • Low-income single-family homeowners with a combined household income at or below 60% of area median income would be exempt from the parcel tax.
  • Single-family homeowners who are 65 years old and older with a combined family income at or below 80% of area median income would be exempt from the parcel tax.
  • Residential hotels in an agreement with a local, state or federal entity to provide affordable units to low-income people would be exempt from the parcel tax.
  • Affordable housing projects owned by nonprofits that serve low-income, disabled and senior residents would pay only 50% of the parcel tax.

The tax amount would also vary by the use of the parcel, and in the case of nonresidential uses, by size.

Measure C requires a minimum of $14.5 million in General Fund appropriations to support library services unless there is an extreme fiscal emergency. If the City Council does not provide General Fund support, the city would not collect the parcel tax. This stipulation would ensure that general support for the libraries is not supplanted by parcel tax funding.

The measure keeps in place the 15-member Library Advisory Commission, which provides citizen oversight of the parcel tax, and an audit by the city auditor every two years.

The amount of the tax could be adjusted annually for inflation. The tax would raise an estimated $18 million in the first year.

The Backstory

Currently, the Oakland Public Library is funded primarily through three distinct funding streams: the Oakland General Fund and two parcel taxes. The General Fund covers basic library operating costs such as utilities, maintenance and custodial needs. Without additional support, programs and services would be limited.

In 1994, Oakland voters approved Measure O, the Library Services Retention and Enhancement Act. In 2004, Oakland voters approved Measure Q, an extension of the act through 2024. If passed, this measure would replace Measure Q and continue to fund the same needs. Measure Q is currently the largest source of funding for libraries and accounts for more than 35% of library funding.1

The Oakland Public Library also receives substantial funding from Measure D, passed in June 2018 and authorized for 20 years. The 2017–18 and 2018–19 parcel tax performance audits found that revenue from Measure Q and the General Fund was inadequate to provide the necessary financial support for Oakland libraries, highlighting the ongoing need for both parcel taxes.2

The measure was placed on the ballot by the Oakland City Council. As a special tax, it requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Equity Impacts

The Oakland Public Library has a track record of reaching under-resourced communities by providing necessary and meaningful services to low-income and unhoused people. Measure C would support such programs and services.

The parcel tax supports equity by exempting low-income households and affordable housing providers.

Many other parcel taxes are administered as flat taxes, which are generally regressive, meaning that they take a larger percentage of income from low-income households. Measure C is adjusted based on the use and, in the case of nonresidential uses, the size of the parcel, making this tax less regressive than standard parcel taxes. However, the burden of this parcel tax would still fall disproportionately on lower-income households because the tax rate isn’t tied to property values.

Pros

  • Measure C provides stable long-term funding for an agency that has demonstrated a strong track record of successfully serving residents.
  • The funds raised by this measure specifically target library programming, which often serves those who are historically and currently underserved.
  • This parcel tax is adjusted based on the use and size of the parcel, which makes it more equitable than other parcel taxes.
  • The measure includes multiple exemptions to better address the regressive nature of parcel taxes.
  • Measure C expires in 30 years, providing the accountability that comes when agencies have to make the case to voters to renew dedicated funding for specific purposes.

Cons

  • Oakland is overly reliant on special taxes to fund city services that should be paid for through the General Fund. This means that libraries must depend on parcel taxes, which are less equitable and sustainable.
SPUR's Recommendation

The Oakland Public Library provides critical services to area residents, particularly those who are historically and currently underserved, and these services require long-term funding. Ideally, this funding would come through the General Fund, since the need for these services is ongoing. However, the 30-year parcel tax provides stable funding when this is not possible.

The parcel tax is also well designed, acknowledging that different types of parcels should be taxed differently and providing equity-driven exemptions. This structure helps reduce the regressive nature of parcel taxes.

Vote YES on Measure C - Library Parcel Tax
Footnotes

1 Oakland Public Library Annual Report 2020–21, https://oaklandlibrary.org/annualreport/.

2 Library Advisory Commission, “Performance Against Requirements of Measure O, Q and D”, accessed March 2022, https://oaklandlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/100/2021/10/Performance-against-Measure-O_Q_D-Requirements.pdf.