Sunday, September 18, 2016

Intro on Voting NO on Measure GG!

--- Table of Contents ---

10/23/2016 Please take a look at our latest flier. It contains the majority of arguments in a two page format. Click the following link for the flier in PDF downloadable format

You can also click the following two images to just view the flier here.

9/21/2016 EDIT: East Bay Times agrees with us VOTE NO ON MEASURE GG

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Introduction (Please skip only if you have already read the four argument statements in voter guide)

Isn’t this ballot measure going to fund enhanced police services and anti-drug programs?

Isn’t the current library cramped and inefficient?

Does the library have any historical significance?

Isn’t renovating our current structures much more costly? Why is the City asking for so much money if it only needs half?

What are affordable alternatives?

Why should I care about a regressive sales tax? Isn’t it better than a property tax?

Isn’t it urgent to replace the Civic Center to protect the safety of Newark residents?

Won’t there be an oversight committee checking spending?

The City says you are just expressing your opinion; why should I not believe the study completed by an independent consultant?

All images and other materials are available at this link:
Onedrive Link to Materials

If you would like a copy of the Newark Days flier, it is available here:




--- Introduction ---

Since September 2015, we, Newark residents, have been closely watching the process to study the replacement of the Newark City Library, Administration Building and Police Headquarters. The following images are the City’s and Our Initial Arguments, as well as rebuttals from both the City and Ourselves. You will want to read those first.



As Newark residents we all want what is best for City Staff, but that is not an excuse to ignore the best long-term interests of those paying for this $126 million measure: Newark taxpayers. I hope you will join us and other Newark residents in voting “NO” on Measure GG on November 4, 2016. We deserve better from our elected officials. One of the few powers we have as residents is at the ballot box. Do not waste our opportunity to get a better deal by supporting a deeply problematic proposal.

--- Isn’t this ballot measure going to fund enhanced police services and anti-drug programs? ---

The argument in favor states: Funding for enhanced neighborhood police patrols, crime prevention, anti-drug and gang prevention programs and improved 9-1-1 response would also be provided.

The same benefits cited by the government were some of the same rationale fed to voters in 2010 and 2014 with the passage of the Utility Users Tax. When it was time to pass it for the first time, the framing was that it was needed as a response to the Great Recession. Nearly eight years after the Great Recession hit in 2008, we are still paying this tax. Government officials have cited that revenue is still not at a level where we can eliminate the income from the tax.

The question is how many sources does the City of Newark draw from for police services?  LARA (Lake and Rosemont Association); Newark Betterment Corporation (a non-profit run by the city manager out of city hall); the city's general fund; the Utility Users Tax and the proposed sales tax increase (which also goes into the general fund).  This is not a complete list.

Yet, here we are being told we need to fund these same needs supposedly covered by the Utility Users Tax. If the government desperately needs these funds even years after the recession has hit, one wonders about the credibility of their claims of demonstrating “sound fiscal stewardship”. Additionally, the currently proposed sales tax measure has no potential method to provide exemptions for seniors and low-income residents. Please note that those living in poverty account for nearly 10% of our city’s population.

Why would it make any sense to further weaken local resident’s discretionary spending power by continuing to maintain a high sales tax rate in Newark? We are already having to depend on a utility tax, which was proposed as temporary for the recession, to fund basic services from insufficient revenue, it makes no sense to also claim our local economy is in good shape.

Take me back to the Table of Contents

--- Isn’t renovating our current structures much more costly? Why is the City asking for so much money if it only needs half? --- 

The City’s argument in favor and rebuttal argument both claim that:
Retrofitting or expanding the existing structures has been shown to be more costly than new buildings
The alternatives the opponents mentioned were studied by an independent consultant and found to cause dangerous delay and be much more costly than this measure.

First of all, the majority of this project will need to be funded by residents. The City claims to have $2 million on hand if construction begins within a few years and expects an additional $8 million to come by 2023. Essentially, that means that residents will need to cover the rest and will pay approximately 90% of the project. With all this housing construction going on across the City, does this sound like sound fiscal management?

Second of all, it is helpful to look at the estimates provided by the City's consultants. According to this slide from the February 2016 City Council hearing:

• Option 1A (renovate current library, rebuild city administration & police headquarters building) costs $64,857,900

• Option 1B (build new buildings at current site) costs $63,278,200

• Option 2 (build new buildings at Community Center site) costs $65,593,000

Difference between Option 1A and 1B: $1,579,700

Later the consultants would provide an updated figure in April, by then they did not have to compare with Option 1A.

Option 1B: $64,000,000

New difference between April estimate for Option 1B and February estimate for Option 1A: $721,800

In either case, a difference of give or take $1,000,000 in a $64,000,000 dollar project does not sufficiently merit descriptions as "much more costly”.

To further add, these estimates are not meant to be exact, rather extrapolations based on sq. ft. costs that were taken from the costs to build a library in Half Moon Bay and Rinconada Library in Palo Alto. Why did the government not provide a cost estimate from a contractor that detailed the exact costs of construction? The library that is needed in Half Moon Bay and Palo Alto does not share the exact same needs for a library in Newark.

If one trusts the numbers provided by the consultants, the replacement of the three buildings is around $64 million, yet the City is asking for $126 million over 25 years. Strangely, the City refuses to go on the record stating their willingness to use excess tax collection from the sales tax towards paying back the debt. Perhaps, their unwillingness to do so is tied to their desire to have a slush fund to be use at their discretion.

If the entirety of the sales tax revenue is used to paying back the debt, the City can pay the entirety of the loan within 20 years. However, by not doing this, a slush fund is created.

In the case that a principal amount borrowed of $64,000,000 that will be paid back at an annual interest rate of 4%, initial sales tax collection of $3,500,000, with an average sales tax growth of 2.5% annually, a slush fund of $25,000,000 is created over the 25 years the sales tax will be in effect. An Excel file has been attached which provides various number of situations, with various interest rates and expected growth in sales tax.

Recall the City frames opponents of the ballot measure as pushing alternatives that are “costlier” (using the consultant’s extrapolated cost models, renovation is expected to be less than $700,000 compared to building new), whereas the local government refuses to promise to put surplus tax revenue into paying back the debt from this project allowing a slush fund to be available for the City and sees no problem in pretending they have the best economic interests of residents.

Even then, the City is pushing estimates that are prone to significant errors as they fail to account for the differences in needs required by Half Moon Bay, Palo Alto and Newark. Therefore, these estimates ought to really be taken with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, instead of the government vilifying residents for wanting to maximize the life of investments already made in our current buildings, the government should instead focus on how they can avoid putting the city further into debt and the expectation that Newark residents are here to bail them out.

Take me back to the Table of Contents

--- Isn’t the current library cramped and inefficient? ---

The argument in favor states: The small size and inefficiency of the Library severely impacts its ability to provide services and programs to children and adult users. Currently, space cannot be dedicated for use by seniors, teens and children.

The consultants noted the following in their presentation at the February City Council hearing, “large, open volume of the library affords the staff the flexibility to reorganize” and “the open plan of the existing library is efficient and allows for a flexible layout”. “Flexibility” is noted as a strength three times. Why is the City claiming otherwise?

They note “the open volume provides the opportunity for enhanced space partitioning”. Space can be dedicated. Just because care must be taken to maintain functional spaces does not mean it is an impossible task. An expansion would easily add the room deemed necessary. A closed off section for children could prevent the sound problems in the current building.

If you look to the right, you can see the City has plenty of room for an expansion in the northeast and north directions of the building.

Ultimately, the issues the City has used as rationale for the need to build a new library are all tied to deferred maintenance. The City could have very easily put in new carpets, new paint on the interior walls, build an expansion. Instead, the City has let the building essentially languish since 1983 when it was constructed. Although Group 4 may promise to build a Library that will last 50+ years, our 1983 Library was designed for the same service life. Regardless of who designs our municipal buildings, when the City fails once again to complete any significant maintenance, the new proposed Library will likely not even make it to 33 years. 

Take me back to the Table of Contents

--- Does the library have any historical significance? ---

Frank Lloyd Wright (middle) and Aaron G. Green (right) 
The rebuttal argument states: Contrary to what the opponents claim, the antiquated library building was deemed to have no historical significance and this Council hopes to re-purpose this building.

Our library was designed by renowned American architect, Aaron Green (1917-2001), a significant protégé of iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Green worked with Wright on more than 40 projects. Wright has designed several buildings throughout the nation, notably the historically significant 1982 Marin Center Civic Center. He was joined by Green, and passed the reins to him once Wright died in the middle of construction and planning. Additionally, Green has designed some buildings in the area, notably the Union City Library and Civic Center.

Despite this clear pedigree and significance, the consultants claimed in their single page assessment that the library has no historical significance because

1. it is too young
2. there is not enough scholarly research that has been done on the building
3. building is not important in the history of American architecture

Seeing how the consultants have failed to be objective on multiple occasions throughout this process (read the last section on the independence by consultants), I decided to get a second opinion and I sent the single page assessment to several architects. Many confirmed my instinct to be suspicious as

1. any building that is younger than 50 years can still be eligible for historical preservation.
2. Not enough scholarly research on its own does not eliminate a building for historical preservation if the case can be established that the building is important at the local level.
3. Buildings do not always have to be important in the history of American architecture, see no. 2

Essentially, the consultants committed the fatal flaw in their analysis by failing to consider the possibility that the building had importance at the local level. It would seem possible that the building does indeed have significance, but there will not be an indisputable answer without further research. It would seem wasteful and short-sighted to the interests of Newark residents to take any further action before that could be investigated.

Take me back to the Table of Contents

--- What are affordable alternatives? ---

Rinconada Library in Palo Alto, CA renovated by Group 4

The City’s support and rebuttal argument fails to discuss the issue of affordable alternatives, something that we did not fail to mention in our against and rebuttal arguments to the City.

One project consultant admitted they were not allowed to make any decisions regarding site locations for renting or leasing beyond the few sites provided by City staff. Importantly, several Newark residents suggested alternative sites that were not part of the offered site options. Once again, it is clear that the reasons for this was to force the consultants to only study specific situations preferred by City staff. There is no indication the consultants were allowed the ability to properly analyze all alternative vacant office space locations throughout the City.

Not only that, the Consultants only presented a lease for 30 years, when residents asked them to study a lease for five or ten years. Essentially, enough time for the City to continue building up a reserve. For a fraction of the cost, the City can temporarily rent needed buildings. In fact, it is already sending staff to work at the Community Center.

Only recently did the City decide to raise developer fees, long after the huge Area 2 and Area ¾ housing developments among others were far into approval. Instead of placing the majority of the burden on residents, they should be looking to get developers which have profited handsomely from our significantly lower fees to help. The tax on hotels is another area the City ought to look into to help decrease burden on taxpayers.

Concerns of darkness in the Library can be resolved by replacing the existing translucent fiberglass skylights with glass as well as upgrading the lighting systems with current fixture types and any additional fixtures as required. Light cannot enter the building through the UV damaged fiberglass (essentially plastic). It would make a world of difference glass as natural light would enter the building and brighten up the entire space. Essentially, the basic maintenance one would expect the City would undertake on its own buildings. Expanding the library would resolve the needs for specialized sections and study rooms. Renovating the library would mean less opportunity for hidden cost overruns, which are more likely in this age than ever before. New signs would make obvious the Library exists and has been renovated. These four small things can make a huge difference to our current investment in our current library.

Removing the extra overhead on the ballot measure calling for funding to services we already pay for would help lower the debt owed by the City. Additionally, making it policy to pay down the debt with surplus tax revenues, rather than keeping it for discretionary reasons, could cut off years from how long the sales tax would have to be in effect.

Take me back to the Table of Contents

--- Why should I care about a regressive sales tax? Isn’t it better than a property tax? ---

The rebuttal argument states: Half a percent is a very small increase in the sales tax ($100 in taxable sales would cost only 50 cents more). This is much preferable to property tax based bonds where the costs could be significantly higher.

First of all, property tax hikes require a higher voter threshold to pass (66%). In addition, this means all money raised from the tax hike must be used only for a specific purpose. The current sales tax hike is a general tax that requires less votes to pass (50+1%) and places funds into the general fund. Therefore, if you want to be truly sure money is going where it needs to go, demand a specific tax. An oversight committee means nothing when the city can legally use funds for any governmental purpose.

Additionally, the government pretends creates the false choice between property tax bonds and higher sales tax. They have the utility tax which can continue to fund the shortfall in the budget supposedly needed for police and other basic services. The government has not completed a sincere effort to consider alternative means of funding the project. Please note the City’s earlier disclosing revenue is still not at a level sufficient to cover basic services. Will revenue increase now that consumers will be charged more in their daily lives?

The government also fails to account for the situation where stores and other local businesses that charge hundreds if not thousands of dollars for goods (furniture, cars, etc.) will deal with the increase in sales tax. As the sales tax is meant to be charged even outside the boundaries of Newark, Newark shoppers will have less discretionary funds to spend on goods weakening the local Newark economy even further than it is now. Please note our supposedly emergency utility users tax is still needed years after the recession to pay for our basic services.

Instead of helping local business thrive by finally cutting back taxes on residents, they are continuing to increase the burden on residents by keeping our sales tax nearly one of the highest across the state. Also, please refer back to how the City is able to decrease the duration of the tax hike, yet refuses to do so to maintain a slush fund available to them.

Take me back to the Table of Contents