Credit: Amir Aziz

There’s still lots of ballots to count in the Nov. 8 election and results could change, but so far all of Oakland’s local ballot measures appear on a path to pass. The measures were placed on the ballot by the City Council and school board and they address a range of issues, but the most consequential ones would raise millions in new revenue for the city and reform its government processes, including elections.

Two Oakland schools measures—H and S

It appears that voters handed the Oakland Unified School District two wins.

Measure H extends a parcel tax for 14 more years to raise about $12 million per year, funding college preparation and career readiness programs that boost graduation rates and improve numerous other student achievement metrics.

“On behalf of the Friends of Oakland Public Schools committee, including representatives from CFJ, FIAEB,  ACC and many other individual volunteers, I am glad to declare victory on Measure H,” said Sam Davis, OUSD District 1 board member. “We do so with confidence because the early returns are so positive at 77% yes, and the votes that came in after the early returns were consistent with that strong yes, as well as all the positivity we heard from the community and during our campaign appreciating the student success stories.”

Davis said the Yes on H campaign plans to have a celebration tonight at the Chabot Space & Science Center.

“It’s been very meaningful to me personally, after a controversial first year and a half on the board, to be involved so deeply with such a positive campaign that unified students, community and labor behind an uplifting message that everyone could get behind,” he said.

Measure S, which would extend the right to vote for school board representatives to noncitizens who are parents or guardians, also looks to be passing with 58% of early votes in favor.

Maribel Gonzalez, executive director of the education policy group GO Public Schools, which campaigned for Measure S, announced they’re confident the measure has passed in an email yesterday.

“While we know that this is only the beginning and there is much more work ahead to implement non-citizen parent voting into future school board elections, we are taking the time now to celebrate and appreciate all of you, the GO Advocates community of supporters, who came together to advocate for and support immigrant families in our Oakland schools,” Gonzalez wrote.

Noncitizen voting measures have faced opposition in other cities like San Francisco from conservative groups and some organizations in Oakland urged a “no” vote, but it’s unclear if anyone will mount a legal challenge against Measure S.

Infrastructure and affordable housing—Measure U

With a rate of 71% approval so far, Measure U, Oakland’s $850 million infrastructure bond looks on track to pass with the supermajority it needs. Transit advocates are excited for the measure’s $300 million that will become available for street repairs over the next 4-6 years, funding that could go a long way toward addressing design problems along Oakland’s high-injury corridors. 

George Spies of the Traffic Violence Rapid Response team told The Oaklandside that his group will be sending out thank you letters to everyone who supported them in their efforts to shape and pass Measure U, including changing some of the language of the bill. Earlier this summer, Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife worked with Rapid Response to amend the measure to ensure some of the money can be used for repairs during regular paving updates.

Spies said that strong support Measure U sends the new mayor and OakDOT a message. 

“The city saw that [street safety] is important,” said Spies. 

Measure U will also provide $350 million to help Oakland build more affordable housing—a $250 million increase over the previous infrastructure bond, 2016’s Measure KK. 

“I think it’s remarkable Oakland voters said ‘yes we want affordable housing,’” said City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who co-authored Measure U. “We also passed fiscal policy to ensure we can issue bonds in a way so that current tax rates don’t go up. I’m glad the voters understood the need for housing and infrastructure and our commitment through that policy to keep our tax rates the same.”

Bas called Measure U “game changing” and said she hopes the current trend in the vote count holds up as more results come in over the next several days.

Millions in new city revenue—Measure T

The overhaul of Oakland’s decades-old business tax, Measure T, looks set to pass with early returns showing 67% approval.

Measure T will lower tax rates for small businesses and increase rates by a small amount for large companies with more profits. It’s estimated to raise about $20 million in new revenue each year for Oakland.

“The returns look really promising,” said Bas, who authored the measure and, along with District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao, negotiated with business groups and unions to reach a compromise that avoided a expensive fight with competing ballot measures or opposition.

“Small businesses came on board much more readily for a number of reasons,” said Bas, including tax relief. But large businesses also supported or didn’t oppose the measure because they acknowledged it would increase city funding for services to deal with illegal dumping, fire safety, infrastructure maintenance, homelessness services, and much more. “That makes for a stronger biz climate,” she said.

If Measure T passes, Bas said it will be a boon for the city’s next budget. “I’m pleased we were able to give it a start date of January 1, 2023. [The tax] is due by March 1, 2023 so it’ll be available next year for the 2-year budget process.”

“Democracy Dollars”—Measure W

The coalition of statewide and local organizations behind Measure W, including Common Cause California, ACLU of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus, Oakland Rising Action, and the League of Women Voters Oakland are optimistic for its passage. 

The measure will provide about $4 million worth of vouchers every two years to Oakland residents to contribute to candidates for mayor, council, school board, and other local offices. These “democracy dollars” are intended to boost participation in the election and level the playing field of campaign finance, which is currently dominated by a handful of affluent residents, corporations, unions, and outside interests who spend the majority of money each cycle. 

“Historically most campaign donations to local races in Oakland come from just a few zip codes, from those who are mostly white, upper-middle class,” said District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, who supported Measure W. “This is now an opportunity to change that dynamic to incentivize candidates for office to go after smaller contributions from all over the city.”

Measure W is based on a similar program in Seattle, which has seen more engagement in elections by eligible voters and more diverse pools of candidates running for office. 

“Measure W will empower Oaklanders to have a bigger influence, and ensure candidates are listening to voters rather than special interests,” said the group Oakland Rising Action in an email this morning.

Opponents to Measure W have said the $4 million it’ll take from the general fund every two years is too much for a city with lots of needs and not enough funding. And they worry about independent expenditures, which remain unlimited due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.

Gail Wallace, the vice president of the League of Women Voters Oakland, told The Oaklandside that her group was “extremely pleased and excited” with the results after 3-5 years of helping to develop Measure W. 

“The point is to attenuate the effects of large money, to give Oaklanders a larger voice, and to give all candidates a chance to run a viable campaign,” she said.

Council term limits and more—Measure X

Councilmember Kalb was also the author of Measure X, which would establish term limits for councilmembers, allowing them to serve no more than three consecutive terms, or twelve years total. The measure 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. X would also increase councilmember salaries, which could help attract more talent, among other changes.

Kalb said the measure appears to have broad support based on early numbers. 

“It’s not going to change things overnight, but I think as each of the elements of the measure  gets implemented, over time you’ll see it [have an effect],” he said. 

Term limits, for example, won’t be retroactive. And adding a minimum number of staff to the auditor’s office might also take some time, since it takes a while for the city to hire employees. 

But Kalb said next year we will likely see the new tiebreaker rule come into effect: currently the mayor has the power to break tie votes of the council, but there’s a loophole that has prevented this in some instances. If one or more councilmembers abstains or is absent, the tie vote rule isn’t triggered. Measure X changes this to make abstentions and absences count as a “no” vote. 

“It’s not gonna be that frequent, but it’ll be more frequent than it used to be,” Kalb said of tie-breakers. “And that will make people start to pay more attention to what the City Council does,” he said.

The most recent results for other ballot measures and more are available here.

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. 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. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.