Creates a 20-year parcel tax in the City of Oakland to fund the Oakland Zoo.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure Y would create a 20-year parcel tax to fund the Oakland Zoo. The Oakland Zoo would use the funds to:
- Construct, maintain, improve and fireproof animal care facilities (39%).
- Increase capacity for additional wildlife (20%).
- Reach and educate children (18%).
- Improve access to education and community programs, affordability and financial resilience without admissions hikes (23%). Tax revenue would help provide free admission for low-income families, students and seniors but not for other Oakland residents.
The tax would apply to single- and multifamily residential housing units, at a flat rate of $68 per residential unit, regardless of parcel size or value. The tax for nonresidential parcels would be based on a formula considering size and use. The parcel tax would have to be paid by parcel owners and could not be passed on to unit renters.
The measure would allow for the following exemptions:
- Low-income single-family homeowners whose households earn less than 60% of the Bay Area median income (the household income for the median or "middle" household in the Bay Area).
- For instance, a four-person family would need to make $95,606 or less per year to qualify for a full exemption.
- Seniors ages 65 or older whose households earn less than 80% of the Bay Area median income (fully exempt from the tax).
- Religious organizations and schools (fully exempt from the tax).
- Affordable housing projects for low-income, disabled and senior residents (50% reduction in tax).
- Foreclosed single-family homes (50% reduction in tax).
The Oakland Zoo has experienced financial hardship for over a decade and continues to face financial distress. In 2012, a similar parcel tax measure did not pass. That measure would have helped to fund the zoo for 25 years at a tax rate of $12 per parcel per year for single-family residences and $72 per parcel per year for nonresidential properties. Without the additional funding, the zoo raised ticket prices in order to maintain and expand the zoo. Measure Y is an increase that is 300% more for residential units than the proposed 2012 parcel tax (adjusted for inflation). The COVID-19 pandemic and decreased attendance have negatively impacted the zoo, which is now seeking a consistent stream of funding via a parcel tax.
Since 2012, private donations and proceeds from higher ticket sales have funded improvements to the zoo. Notably, the Oakland Zoo built the California Trail and reported that it has been able to expand the flamingo aviary to allow flamingos to fly as they would in the wild.
Currently, revenue from admissions, memberships and concession sales makes up $16 million of the zoo’s $22 million annual budget. Private philanthropy provides about $4 million a year, and the government contributes $2 million. The zoo’s current source of public funding comes from Oakland’s General Fund, which allocated 0.02% ($171,414) of its funds to the zoo in 2021. The zoo argues that this amount of funding is not enough to cover some of the costs of upgrading. Given the challenges of General Fund tax allocations, a parcel tax would enable the zoo to secure a more significant and consistent source of funding each year, estimated at $10 million in annual revenue.
The measure was placed on the ballot through the collection of voters’ signatures. It requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
The tax revenue from Measure Y would enable the zoo to provide free admission to low-income families, students and lower-income seniors. Currently, the zoo does not offer free admissions to low-income families or lower-income seniors. These new discounts would increase access to the zoo for those who could previously not afford to visit.
Low-income residents and lower-income seniors who own their homes could get an exemption from the flat parcel tax, although they would have to prove to the city’s director of finance that they qualify by providing federal income tax returns and W-2 forms, which could pose an administrative hurdle.
Landlords would not be allowed to pass the parcel taxes on to renters in rent-controlled units, so the financial impact of the tax would fall on the property owners. However, because this would be a flat-rate tax, it would constitute a larger percentage of income for moderate-income homeowners than for higher-income households, adding a greater burden for middle-income families.
- The Oakland Zoo would have a sustainable funding source in the near future to improve infrastructure and to expand programs without raising the cost of admission for all visitors.
- The tax revenue would enable the zoo to provide free admission to low-income families, students and seniors.
- The measure would exempt low-income families and lower-income senior homeowners from the parcel tax.
- Measure Y would expire in 20 years, providing the accountability that comes when agencies have to make the case to voters to renew dedicated funding for specific purposes.
- The tax rate would not take into account the value of the residential unit or the income of the owner. Regressive taxes unfairly burden those with less income, in this case middle-income homeowners.
- This measure could perpetuate Oakland’s over-reliance on parcel taxes to fund public goods.
- Measure Y would create a disproportionate financial burden on Oaklanders to sustain the zoo. The Oakland Zoo is not just a resource for the City of Oakland, but for the whole region, particularly the East Bay.
- The Oakland Zoo is not guaranteeing free admission to Oakland residents who would pay the tax.
Support from local governments has allowed many other California zoos to expand their capacity significantly through public partnerships and private donations. For example, the San Francisco Zoo has been able to provide substantial discounts to low-income San Francisco residents. However, a $68 parcel tax represents a significant amount for many Oaklanders and further increases the zoo’s dependency on the government. Recognizing both the educational importance of the zoo and the cost burden of a parcel tax on Oakland property owners, SPUR's Board of Directors was divided and could not reach a 60% majority to either support or oppose this measure.