A ballot drop box at the Registrar of Voters' office in downtown Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

For the Nov. 8 general election, Oakland voters will get to decide on nine city ballot measures and one OUSD measure.

What’s a ballot measure? Some of Oakland’s laws are written into the city charter—Oakland’s constitution—and the only way to update, repeal, or add to these rules is by passing a ballot measure. Each measure is basically a question asking voters whether or not the city charter should be changed. For OUSD, ballot measures are typically used to approve taxes that support schools.

This year’s ten local measures would update the city’s renter protections, raise money for infrastructure projects, levy taxes, and do much more. We’ve listed them below in the order they appear on the city’s website. 

Supporters and opponents of each measure are writing statements that will appear in the county’s official election guide to help voters make up their minds. We’ll link to these as they become available.

We’ll also publish in-depth explainers for each measure closer to the election. But we know a simple list is also useful at this point, as many voters are simply trying to understand how much stuff they have to get up to speed on. 

Zoo money

The 2022 Oakland Zoo Animal Care, Education and Improvement Ordinance would support the Oakland Zoo by establishing a 20-year parcel tax that raises about $12 million annually.

Like most parcel taxes, property owners would need to pay the $68 annual flat rate, with some exemptions for seniors, low-income households, religious institutions, and others.

The zoo is a nonprofit organization funded by the city and through other grants that focuses on education and conservation of wildlife. It sees almost a million visitors each year. 

In 2020, Zoo leaders feared the institution would have to close permanently when revenue from ticket sales evaporated due to the pandemic. See more of our coverage of this measure here

Progressive business tax

From small shops to giant corporations, every business operating in Oakland has to pay the city’s business tax. The amount they owe is a flat rate on their “gross receipts,” or their total yearly income. 

Currently, the city groups similar kinds of companies into categories based on what they sell, and taxes them accordingly . All grocery stores pay the same rate. So do all retail shops. There’s a specific flat rate that all construction contractors pay. And so on.

Size doesn’t matter under the current system. A small grocer who owns one store is taxed at the same rate by the City of Oakland as Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods.

The progressive business tax ballot measure would completely overhaul the city’s tax code by creating a tiered structure in which companies with higher gross receipts, or yearly incomes, pay higher tax rates. If approved, companies with $1 million or less in gross receipts will pay lower taxes going forward, while those making more than $1 million per year will see their taxes go up.

As a result, the city budget will see millions more in revenue each year.

Councilmember term limits and more

City Councilmembers can stay in office indefinitely, so long as they’re reelected every four years by their constituents. Dan Kalb and others think that’s a bad idea. They want to stop councilmembers from serving more than three consecutive terms in office, or 12 years total, by putting “term limits” in place.

This ballot measure, which is actually a package of government reforms authored by Kalb, would also require the City Council to hold at least two public hearings before voting to place a measure on the ballot. Currently, the council can get away with just one public hearing.

Increases of city councilmember salaries—they’re currently paid $97,000 to $103,000—would also be tied to inflation, meaning they’d grow a small amount each year to keep up with the economy’s overall growth. The city attorney and city auditor would also probably get pay increases because the authority to set their salaries would be given to the Public Ethics Commission, and they would set pay at amounts comparable to the highest paid employees in their departments and comparable jobs in other cities.

This ballot measure would make a lot of other small but important changes to the charter that we’ll delve into later on.

‘Democracy dollars’

The vast majority of Oakland residents don’t give money to the candidates who run for City Council, mayor, school board, and other elected positions. This means that a small minority of residents, mostly more affluent people who live in North Oakland and the hills, as well as corporations that may or may not be located in Oakland, put up most of the money that helps people get elected.

The “Fair Elections Act” would create a new program where every registered voter gets four $25 vouchers to give to candidates of their choosing. Meant to help level the electoral playing field, the program would cost the city about $4 million every two years.

Allowing non-citizens to vote

Non-citizens pay taxes, and many of them send their children to Oakland schools, but they’re not allowed to vote for the people who run OUSD. This ballot measure would allow non-citizens who are the parents or legal guardians of school-aged children to vote in OUSD school board director elections.

Updated eviction protections

Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance has been in effect since 2003. It prevents landlords from evicting their renters except for “just cause” reasons, like if a tenant hasn’t paid their rent, damaged the property, or is doing something illegal in their apartment. The law is meant to create greater housing stability for renters.

This ballot measure would update the Just Cause ordinance by also preventing evictions of households with children and educators during a school year. It would also extend eviction protections to tenants who live in RVs and newly constructed units, except for the first ten years after a new apartment was built.

They/them

If you read through Oakland’s City Charter, especially the parts that discuss pensions for city workers, some of the language is gendered in inaccurate ways or in a manner that implies only men or women perform certain jobs or roles. For example, a reference to “firemen” appears in a few places, as does “widow.” Other parts refer to “he” or “him” when talking about city employees or elected officials.

This measure would edit the charter to avoid gender stereotyping—for example, using “surviving spouse” instead of “widow,” “firefighter” instead of “fireman,” or “they” and “them” instead of “he” or “she”—and is meant to foster a more inclusive city through language.

OK for ‘social housing’?

In 1950 in California, Black people, Latinos, and other minorities fighting against structural racism sought greater government investment in public housing. White people had benefited enormously from government-funded housing, they noted, and more low-income units could help lift other groups into the middle class. The state’s white majority responded by passing Article 34, an amendment to the state constitution that was used to block public housing for decades to come. 

Today, many people say that Article 34 was an intentionally racist barrier that white communities used to exclude others. Article 34 requires voter approval before public housing can be built in a city. As a result, public housing has been voted down in many cities. Fair housing advocates sought to overturn the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it on the grounds that it wasn’t intentionally racist.

This local ballot measure would grant Oakland the authority to essentially bypass Article 34 and build 13,000 low-income units of “social housing.” The measure wouldn’t provide funding to build any housing, and it doesn’t greenlight any specific projects. It would only empower Oakland to legally build these units if it can line up the land, money, and other resources later on. 

$850 million for affordable housing, transportation, and other infrastructure

The 2022 Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Bond would allow Oakland to raise as much as $850 million for a variety of projects, including $350 million for affordable housing and $290 million for transportation. The rest could be used on parks, libraries, fire and police facilities, Head Start centers, and other city properties.

College and Career for All initiative

Oakland voters approved Measure N in 2014, a $120 parcel tax that has raised about $12 million per year for career-based learning programs for OUSD students. Measure N’s goals were to decrease the high school dropout rate, increase graduation rates, boost students’ ability to succeed in college, and reduce disparities in achievement. By many measures, the program has shown success.

Measure N expires in 2025, but the OUSD school board voted in June to put a measure on the ballot asking voters to extend the parcel tax for 14 years.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.