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I'm feeling very proud of my community tonight. Our little park district held a mailed-ballot election asking property owners to vote on an assessment to maintain/improve local parks. Polling prior to the election showed less than 50% support for the measure. The actual result? 75% of the ballots said yes. When adjusted to reflect the weighted ballots (bigger parcels, like strip malls and car sales lots, got more votes) the yes vote was 68%.

Why does it matter that a small independent park district in unincorporated Sacramento County got this kind of result in midsummer 2011? Let's start with the "no taxes ever, starve the beast, government sucks" mentality that pervades the airwaves, pollutes the print media and poisons policy-making everywhere these days. The vote kind of goes against that grain, doesn't it?

Next, consider this: due to California's quirky laws, only property owners could vote and the businesses and apartment owners got more votes than the houses. Even though the district is heavily populated by renters and there are foreclosed/vacant properties all over the place, the local property owners displayed a sense of civic responsibility towards the entire community. That also flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Third, the City of Sacramento, the County of Sacramento, and the State of California are all in desperate financial shape and have been taking it out on their parks. The City's park system is going to hell in a hand basket. The County's parks already went there. The State is in the process of closing a whole lot of State Parks. The local media has been chock full of stories about parks going down the tubes. Meanwhile, the County has been floating a proposal to raise special taxes for parks. The idea is getting beaten up in the media. If you read the local paper, you would think no one cares about parks and that's OK because they're just expensive frills in this period of economic woe. When I walked precincts as a volunteer leading up to the vote deadline, a comment I frequently heard was, "Why are they letting the parks go down?" I had to explain that our park district wasn't "they," but instead was asking voters to keep the parks in good shape. The vote results showed that people in our little park district DO care about parks and are willing to tax themselves to keep the parks maintained and improved.

BTW, this is not some kind of well-off, la-ti-da, gated McMansions community. It's an aging, close-in, working-class suburb of about 30,000 people. The area has seen better days. The strip malls have X-rated massage parlors, bong shops and check-cashing stores. The used car lots have signs saying "No credit? No problem." Housing values have been racing downwards.

Let's review: 75% of voters said they wanted their property assessed to pay for parks. I'm glad I live in a community that steps up like that. Even the struggling car lots and vacant strip mall owners saw value in our parks. Thanks to our voters, our parks will survive. And if we can do it here, maybe it can happen elsewhere.

Originally posted to Left Foot Forward on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 12:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Well at least you got to vote on it.... (7+ / 0-)

      which is more than Republicans believe you should ever be allowed to do.

      As a California resident, you know that the heavily minority GOP, by dint of a Constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds super majority to pass anything involving potential tax increases, has held the state's budget crisis in limbo.

      Governor Brown proposed a referendum to let the voters decide if they wanted to support his budget plan which would have been resolved in part by continuing a series of temporary tax hikes to keep extra revenue flowing in against the debt.

      The GOP managed to block even allowing the referendum and you know damned well why.....because if it had happened, there was a strong possibility it would have passed, and if that happened it would blow a hole in the Tea Party mantra that the only thing citizens want is to see taxes and spending cut.

      Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

      by dweb8231 on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 12:40:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  agree (0+ / 0-)

        I agree.  Many voters would allow higher taxes.  Many votes even in today's economy understand the need for revenue.  

      •  Indeed, dweb, GOPers in the state legislature (0+ / 0-)

        keep saying that we should approach the financial crisis as if it were a family budget. You know, like all of those families in crisis who wouldn't dream of adding revenue to their kitties if it were possible...they'd just keep moving toward starvation with a self-righteous smile.
        Madness.
        Brown even had Republican citizens and the Chamber of Commerce on board with his plan but that had no influence on the dark minds and wizened hearts that insist on steering the ship to the shoals.

  •  I've heard the same thing here. (4+ / 0-)

    People are opposed to taxes in the abstract but they don't mind local taxes (as long as they're small) if they can see the benefit.

    I'm glad to see your parks survive. I live in the country but if I was in the city and wanted to throw a Frisbee...

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 12:45:18 AM PDT

  •  25% of Voters Opposed to Taxes Are Teabaggers' (7+ / 0-)

    "real Americans".

    California, once the envy of the other 49 states, turned into West Mississippi thanks to Howard Jarvis and his Proposition 13 which eliminated property taxes for extremely wealthy Californians thereby doing the classic rethug thing of shamelessly pushing tax burden away from themselves and onto poorer folks.

    The Confederate states, the self-righteous welfare bums of the country, have the most regressive taxation because the ultraconservative bigots in political control push tax burden away from themselves and their rich rethug benefactors and dump it on poorer folks in the form of a sales tax on everything disproportionately harming the poor by taxing food, clothing, and other basic necessities.  
    The regressive sales tax-based southern states' economies are in particularly bad shape when unemployment rises and people have less disposable income to make purchases and tighten their financial belts.

    Poverty of Thought causes Poverty of Pocket, & rethugs are the most impoverished "thinkers" because they're morally- and intellectually-bankkrupt.  The deep south is living proof. and the decline of California since Howard Jarvis and his Prop. 13 illustrates this wonderfully.

  •  Would be interesting to know... (0+ / 0-)

    ...general income info of those voting for the uptick in tax for park improvements...as well as those voting against it. My general assumption is that higher you go up the income scale the less willing to pay more tax to improve anything that does not provide more income to "job creators". Just saying

    Our nations quality of life is based on the rightousness of its people.

    by kalihikane on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 06:42:43 AM PDT

  •  Only property owners could vote???? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bailey2001

    That is bizarre! By the way that can't be CA law. Here in my city of Milpitas we just passed a school bond measure with a regular broad based vote just last year. A 2/3 majority is requried, but every voter gets to vote.

    The provision that only property owner could vote; and that large property  owners get more votes is a very dangerous concept that completely undermines democracy.

    •  true (0+ / 0-)

      True   I didn't think of that until you mentioned it.

    •  Proposition 218 only lets property owners vote (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      icemilkcoffee

      California voters passed Proposition 218 in November 1996. (see http://www.lao.ca.gov/... for background). Under Proposition 218 local governments can impose taxes on property with a simple majority vote, but because the taxes are concerned with benefits to property only the proposed beneficiaries of the tax (i.e. the property owners) can vote on the measure. Of course, this creates all kinds of craptastic scenarios, such as disenfranchising renters while kowtowing to absentee slum landlords. At one of the houses I walked during the campaign, the guy said he was Canadian and couldn't vote. But he WAS eligible to vote because he owns the house. No doubt there are other foreigners who own property in the district and got to vote even though a great many American citizens can't just because they are renters. So, yeah, in some ways, this is a dangerous concept that undermines democracy. But it is one of the few ways left for local governments to raise funds in the post-Proposition 13 dream world of those icons of slum landlordship,  Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann.

      Energy efficiency 1st in the loading order

      by Left Foot Forward on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 12:12:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I see... more ballot box idiocy (0+ / 0-)

        Should have guessed that about CA.  You are absolutely right that this totally shafts the renters. "one man one vote" should be the standard of democracy. "One dollar one vote" is the right wing wet dream.

  •  We have this thing called Freedom of Speech (0+ / 0-)

    And speech is measured by dollars.  Which means the wealthiest 10% of the population gets 90% of the freedome of speech and therefore your poll is properly weighted to reflect the reality of our current political climate.

  •  These people are clearly not "serious" (0+ / 0-)

    because they ignore the will of the oligarchy "people".

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 11:06:21 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for good news (0+ / 0-)

    needed some just now.

    'Give away to the rich and punish the poor for the extravagance.....crazy' --LaFeminista

    by MsGrin on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 12:59:58 PM PDT

  •  You don't understand . . . (0+ / 0-)

    as this Administration has amply demonstrated, it doesn't care what people who have already voted for it think . . . it wants to appeal to the folks who DIDN'T vote for him in 2008 . . . i.e., Republicans . . .

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by bobdevo on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 01:02:48 PM PDT

  •  I Have My Doubts about Texas - (0+ / 0-)

    They are always threatening to secede -
    Led by their crazy governor.
    They gave us two Bushes.
    (I'd rather give them a bird.)
    But Texas also gave us Ann Richards and Molly Ivins.
    So I'm not quite sure I'm ready to let them go - -
    Yet.

  •  In other words (0+ / 0-)

    75% of the people WHO VOTED want the assessment.  Do we know roughly how many people actually voted?  I seriously doubt there was a 100% response rate.  But, for argument's sake, let's assume a 60% response rate.  That means 18,000 people actually voted.  Of those 18,000 then you're suggesting that roughly 12,000 people determined the additional property assessment for the remaining people in the area.

    Furthermore, let's say I'm one of those 25% that voted against the tax.  What you're saying is my voice doesn't count and regardless of the reason I'm against that tax, if enough people vote for it, then we have it regardless of my feelings on the matter.  To further make things worse, if I'm still opposed to the tax and refuse to pay it, then you have just given government the ability to use whatever force is necessary (including evicting me from my property and throwing me in prison if necessary) to obtain the money from me.

    And I'm assuming this is not a one year and done tax.  That means that you've obligated property owners for several years to be forced at the point of a gun to pay this tax.  So let's say that in 5 years or so, the demographics of the property owners change such that now 75% of them don't want the tax.  What do you think the likelihood is that the tax will ever be repealed?  And what do you think the likelihood is that if I, as part of that 25% that voted against the tax, worked ferociously day and night to get a measure on the ballot to repeal the tax that I would be demonized and called greedy and selfish?

    "Politicians never accuse you of 'greed' for wanting other people’s money – only for wanting to keep your own money." – Joseph Sobran

    •  The rules were followed to the letter (0+ / 0-)

      I suppose if you owned property in the area, you would have chosen to vote no along with the 25% of other "no" ballots. But I'm not sure where you are going with your comments, other than to say that no elections are valid unless everyone votes. Or maybe that public services should be provided for free by a Fairy Godmother.

      The election was conducted according to the strict requirements of state law, in this case Proposition 218. Every single property owner was mailed a ballot specific to their parcel or parcels. General benefits to property were excluded from the calculation, as only special benefits are allowed by law. Owners of larger parcels (businesses and apartments) got more votes than single family houses did. Parcel's assessments varied according to the specific benefit to be conferred on the property as detailed in an Engineer's Report that was adopted pursuant to a public hearing. The total annual value of the assessment across the district is $320K, which represents around 10% of the district's annual budget. The assessment dollars can only be used for certain purposes, according to state law, and must be transparently tracked.

      Yes, the assessment runs into the future, but each and every year there must be another Engineer's Report, also to be adopted pursuant to a public hearing. The Board of the Park District must make a finding of necessity, linked to the Engineer's Report. That's how state law guarantees that future property owners will have a voice and that changing conditions will be addressed.

      If you refuse to pay? Well, property taxes are part of life. You pay them. That's why there are paved streets, firemen and paramedics, and parks where you can take your dog, let your kid play on the swings, or throw a frisbee. People who don't pay property taxes wind up with liens on their property. Would you prefer to live in Somalia?

      Now let's put some things in perspective. The assessment was set at $25 a year for a house. Based on that, some of the big commercial properties will be paying a whopping sum of, oh, say $800 or $1600 a year (100% write-offable, of course). Those are among the lowest park assessments anywhere in the state. Nearby park districts have assessments up to 4 times these levels. These levels are pimples on the butt of the area's normal Proposition 13 property taxes. For example, If you buy a house in the area at the current median price, say $250K, your annual property taxes as long as you own the house will be $2500 plus a tiny occasional rise (or decrease, if property values fall as they have recently). New property purchases subsidize existing properties. That's how Prop 13 works. It is the law in California and a popular one at that. School assessments, sewer assessments, etc. are on top of the Prop. 13 level. The bottom line, really, is that property taxes in California are very low. Yes, the state has an income tax and, yes, there is a regressive sales tax, but California's property taxes aren't problematic.

      Turnout was about 30%, which is consistent with elections held in California in non-Presidential-years. I have no idea why 100% of ballots were not returned. It was mighty easy to vote. Voting involved checking "yes" or "no", signing one's name certifying to ownership of the parcel, putting the ballot in the postage-paid return envelope, sealing it,  and dropping it in the mail. Replacement ballots were readily available to property owners during the several-weeks-long voting period, culminating with a final public hearing and last-chance voting opportunity. Maybe some property owners felt the assessment was too small to bother with, or maybe they were Jehovah's Witnesses who chose to leave the matter in God's hands, or maybe there were other reasons why they chose not to vote. It might be against the law in Australia to not vote, but here in California people are free to vote or not vote as they prefer.

      Have a nice day.

      Energy efficiency 1st in the loading order

      by Left Foot Forward on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 06:30:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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