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Oakland Mayor's Race: Don MaCleay, Don Perata, Tax Increment Financing

Blogging random thoughts on Labor Day 2010 in Oakland.

First, say Chip Johnson, my friend, can you name all of the candidates running for Mayor of Oakland without a list to assist you? A bottle of wine says you can't do it on video. Talking to Don Perata is great, and it was a great column, but we need more coverage from you - try doing all of them! Besides, Don skipped the Forum. He had a reason, but Perata's not Mayor; acting like he is will not win the prize.

...Still, I'm starting to see Perata lawn signs...

Second, this blogger has video from the Oakland Mayor's Race Forum on Jobs from last Thursday, but thankfully so do a number of Oakland blogs. That means I can wait and take my time. Yeah!

In fact, I have a backlog of videos that are of a higher priority than the Forum, and I will explain why below. But interviews with Oakland District Two Councilmember Pat Kernighan and her challenger Jennifer Pae, and an upcoming interview with Joe Tuman have to get out there.

Third, now, about the Forum. Where were Terrance Candell and Arnie Fields? Got to attend these things.

Don McCleay 
As I stated in my Twitter tweets during the forum - and there's a good chance you didn't see them, which is cool, but it's not like I have a million followers yet - I believed the best performances were from Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Joe Tuman, and (drum roll please) Marcy Hodge. I really didn't think Hodge would do that well, and I base much of my choice on the way she handled my tax increment financing question.

Frustrated with the dog-and-pony-show level of questions at the Oakland Mayor's Forums, I tossed in this one: What is Tax Increment Financing and how will you use it to help business and create jobs in Oakland?

Or something like that.

The question did what I engineered it to do: surprise the candidates and make them think, and scare them. In the process, we learn how they handle a real curveball. Because that's what Mayor's will have to deal with: lots of curveballs.

Beyond that, I wanted to see if the people running for Mayor knew about what tools were available to them for job creation and business assistance. TIF is one of them. (And before you tell me it can't be used for the provision of services in Oakland, I will tell you you're wrong. There's a little known part of the California Heath and Safety Code that says, essentially, that it can. So there. Go and do your homework, and when you're stuck, call me.)

At any rate...

Marcy Hodge answered the question and correctly referred to TIF for what is is, a tool. For someone who didn't spend time in redevelopment (well, OK, she is on the Peralta Board), she gave a good answer of what it could and could not do.

I can't say that for my friend Don MaCleay, who's first concern was "Who asked the question." My thought was "Who cares! Just deal with it." I was openly disappointed in Don, and I think he knew he could have handled that better.

In fairness, Don was the one who got the question first. But that deer-in-the-headlights look he had was frankly totally funny. He paused for a second, and almost had his own Jan Brewer moment, except he saved himself by 8 seconds.

Because of Don's flub, the other candidates were under pressure to try and get it right and for the most part, they did. Councilmember Jean Quan actually got it better than the other candidates, and were it not for Hodge's surprisingly poised answer, would have won the round. Jean Quan was fair, she didn't bash TIF, just gave an evaluation of its pros and cons.

Larry Lionel Young Jr, started off well if stilted, but then lost me when he went "street" in the last part of his answer, ending in a "Vote for LL."   Still, "LL" is a very polished candidate and has presented himself extremely well.   The gap between he and say, Councilmember Jean Quan isn't much, frankly.

But the "much" is critical. I think if the Forums had more policy questions like that one, Jean would do better than she has. Councilmember Quan's a really bright and well-considered person. In retrospect, I don't think the Forums have done her justice, but one thing is she's getting better at just being happy rather than having the view of "what am I doing here with these people."

I hope she keeps it up.

What Is Tax Increment Financing?

Oh, forgot to mention. Tax Increment Financing goes like this. You have an area of the City that you and I agree is blighted. So the Oakland City Council agrees and to make a long process short, we have a redevelopment area. The property tax paid by land and building owners normally goes to the city, county, BART, AC Transit, and EBMUD; now it goes to the Oakland Redevelopment Agency.

The first year of collection, we take the total assessed value of the new area and that becomes the base year of AV. (AV is assessed value.) Each year from that point we take the total assessed value for that year and subtract it from the base year, and multiply that times the tax rate. That's our money for that year, but we let it build up year after year.

If we look out over a 40 year projected period, we have enough to use to float a bond to finance a redevelopment plan.

That's the basic explanation of TIF from a guy, me, who's been a consultant to the City of Oakland, Emeryville, and Elihu Harris, when he was Mayor of Oakland.

OK. It's Labor Day. Enjoy it.
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