“Progressive” budgeting

At the Merry-Go-Round, we read the City of Alameda’s General Fund budget pretty carefully, and we like to think we understand all of the items the budget contains.

One line in the proposed two-year budget presented to Council on May 11, however, stumped us.  It’s the one highlighted in yellow:

We were familiar, of course, with property taxes and similar charges paid by citizens that generate revenue for the General Fund, but what was a “Shuumi Land Tax”?  And why was it shown as an expense?

A quick Google search took us to a website explaining that the “Shuumi land tax” wasn’t really a tax all; instead, it was a “voluntary annual contribution” to an entity called the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, which has undertaken projects on a two-acre plot of land under the freeway in east Oakland and at the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville.  The goal of the Trust’s efforts, the website stated, is the “rematriation” of “Indigenous land to Indigenous people.”

Alas, we didn’t know what “rematriation” meant, either.  So back to Google.  “Rematriation,” the first-cited article stated, “refers to reclaiming of ancestral remains, spirituality, culture, knowledge and resources, instead of the more Patriarchally associated Repatriation.  It simply means back to Mother Earth, a return to our origins, to life and co-creation, rather than Patriarchal destruction and colonisation, a reclamation of germination.”

Unfortunately, this description didn’t leave us any better informed.  In any event, we were still wondering what this item was doing in the City of Alameda General Fund budget.

We now know the answer.  And even though City Manager Eric Levitt told us that the next draft of the budget would show “$0” for this item, its appearance in the budget at all raises an issue about whether our Council members (or some of them) regard the budget more as a tool for burnishing their “progressive” credentials than as a blueprint for addressing the needs of people who live or work in Alameda.

The first mention of the “Shuumi land tax” came during the January 19 meeting at which Council decided, by a 3-to-2 vote, to rename Jackson Park to Chochenyo Park.  During his remarks, Councilman John Knox White stated that he initially had had “reservations” about the City changing the name of the park to Chochenyo because “we don’t want to appropriate.”  But after learning that “one of the tribal members” had signed off on the new name, Mr. Knox White was willing to go ahead with the change.  There was, however, one other action he wanted his colleagues to take:  direct staff to include in the next two-year General Fund budget an item “that would allow us to consider paying the Shuumi land tax.”

Mr. Knox White didn’t explain what “paying” the “tax” would entail, and we’ll bet the majority (if not all) of his colleagues had no idea what he was talking about.  This was the rationale he offered:

We wouldn’t necessarily be giving the land back, but I think that it’s something that I know a number of Alamedans are doing on their private property, and I think it would at least be something that would be very interesting for the city to look at, to really honor what this land is, what the name means, and to include that in our two-year budget as just a consideration.

So not direction to do it, but I think that knowing what that cost would be and what it would take to do that would be kind of a next step in what I might call a long-term truth and reconciliation process, and I think it would honor the work that our community has done and the voices that we’ve heard.

And that was it.  Mr. Knox White did not identify any project proposed (or even contemplated) by the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in the City of Alameda.  Nor did he explain why the City should use Alameda taxpayers’ funds to subsidize work – however worthy it might be – the Trust was doing elsewhere.  His proposal amounted to making a gesture – but since it would require an expenditure from the General Fund, the gesture wouldn’t be an empty one.

Councilwoman Malia Vella previously had moved to approve renaming the park, and she agreed to treat Mr. Knox White’s remarks as a “friendly amendment” to her motion.

There was no further discussion of Mr. Knox White’s proposed direction to staff.

But Mr. Levitt was taking notes, and when he and his staff drafted the budget for fiscal years 2021‑22 and 2022‑23, they included the “Shuumi land tax” item shown above.  Recreation and Parks Director Amy Wooldridge told us that the item had been listed “inadvertently” under her department, but we suspect Mr. Levitt and the finance staff couldn’t find any logical place to put it.

The amount was left as “To Be Determined,” and probably for good reason:  the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust’s  website recommends that an “institutional” donor such as a non-profit organization contribute 10 percent of its annual budget to the Trust – which, based on the draft budget for FY 2021-22, would mean a donation of about $11.3 million for the City of Alameda.  Imagine the reaction that number would have gotten had Mr. Levitt stuck it into the draft budget.

At the May 11 budget workshop, Mr. Knox White declared that he wanted to “lend my strong voice of support” for paying the Shuumi land tax – but he was the only Council member to speak in favor of it.  Councilwoman Vella didn’t address the item, and Councilman Tony Daysog admitted he didn’t even know what it was.  And when Councilwoman Trish Spencer got her turn, she unloaded on the idea:

I appreciate that there are people that think that we need to make a donation to the tribe – it’s my understanding that really is what that is, it’s not money that is spent here in the city of Alameda, it’s actually money spent on the land that the tribe has. . . .

There are many people here in the city of Alameda of all ages that have very serious needs. They have always been here, they’ve always had their needs, but it is even more now because of COVID, it’s even more, the needs are greater.  And my first priority is to serve the people here in the city of Alameda. . . .  These are taxpayer dollars.  I’m happy to encourage people that live here to spend their money to send to this tribe.  I really think taxpayer dollars, first and foremost, must go to the people here in our city. . . .

[I]f you live in our town or if you live anywhere in the world and you want to donate, that’s fine, that’s your money.  But when we are actually taking money out of people’s wallets to contribute to the city, it is critical that that money in my opinion be spent on people here.  I don’t want to take it out of their wallet if we’re not going to spend it here, because there are many people that we take money out of their wallet and they cannot afford to have that money taken out of their wallet, they cannot actually afford the sales tax, they can’t afford to live here, there have so many serious needs, that is going to be my first priority.

And then a remarkable event occurred.  With only a few seconds remaining of her allotted time, Mayor Ashcraft jumped in – to endorse Ms. Spencer’s position:

I agree with your comments about this land trust.  I think it is fine to encourage the public – as at least one of our speakers mentioned, she’s made donations – but especially this year I think we still have financial uncertainties ahead of us, we do not have a clear picture of how this coming fiscal year is going to play out, so let’s make sure we’re finding things right in front of us in our own community.

There’s really nothing more to say.  If Trish Spencer and Marilyn Ashcraft agree about something, how can we possibly differ?


2021-05-11 REVISED Presentation

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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19 Responses to “Progressive” budgeting

  1. Tawney Masson says:

    Amen, what a crock.

  2. His Excellency, the Grand Exalted Mayor JKW the 1st (and only, he is sui generis) says:

    Spain owes the Ohlone, it was the Spaniards who stole their land, though perhaps the US owes Mexico, but if there was a treaty is there a debt? or should there be a committee to figure out the pro rata share between US/ Spain and don’t forget that the US owes the Sioux for the Black Hills but the Sioux owe the Cheyenne for stealing the Black Hills a century earlier and hoo boy Canada is gonna be tough to calculate between UK and France and OMG this is exhausting but we must rematriate (as soon as that word enters the dictionary)

  3. RJP says:

    Maybe Alameda does need to cede land bank to the Ohlone.

  4. Observer says:

    The “who came first” and “we owe them” argument is particularly non-sensical and can never be resolved because history shows wave after wave of settlement, uprooting, disease, war, despoliation, and migration. It looks like JKW made a vague promise in order to “appropriate” the park name. Now the precedent has been set. The end game is that “ownership” of any private land is to be limited or eliminated in favor of the State.

    History is used like a weapon in this town. The rich history of the US Merchant Marine installation is “not worthy” of saving when compared to another expansive homeless project that will never solve the homeless problem and only bring more homeless here. President Jackson’s legacy of defeating our enemies and bringing the vote to the common man is “tainted” because he fought Native Americans, but a mostly unknown tribe with few living descendants should be venerated to achieve a progressive talking point. Nothing is accomplished, no problems are solved, but politicians get to virtue signal for the next election.

    • Jenice Anderson says:

      He didn’t FIGHT Native Americans, he committed genocide and ethnic cleansing against them. And Jackson didn’t even fight Ohlone, so you only brought him up because you’re clearly still hung up on the fact that the people of this city changed the name of a park to honor honorable people. Jackson attempted to exterminate Tribes along the eastern US. Like mine, that’s why we have two Seminole Tribes in the US. Because a genocidal moron split us up sending half on a Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. He had women and children murdered, my ancestors fought his armies and won because we’re still here. The Lisjan Ohlone are too. You’re on THEIR land. Try reading a book not written by white men.

      • Observer says:

        Sorry Jenice…Native American tribes allied with America’s enemies, first with the French, then the British, and finally the Confederacy during our Civil War. Chief Black Hawk with guns supplied by Great Britain rose in rebellion in 1832 lighting the frontier aflame. His defeat gave impetus to the Indian Removal Act. There is plenty of blame on both sides.

    • 2,000 Year Old Roman Walls says:

      You say “history is used like a weapon in this town” and then followed that with a projecting non-sequitur. You were weaponizing history using very porous arguments to try and make derelict and earthquake-prone buildings into something they’re not to try and stop homeless services. I believe one person even compared these Frankenstein buildings with the Great Wall of China and and 2,000 year old Roman walls, which knocked me over in laughter. Historical Advisory Board made the right call: the site has some history, the buildings do not. Commemorate with plaques around the site, and just preserve the Glory of the Seas building and the Crab Cove visitor center that are on EBRPD land. If you had complained when EBRPD demolished half the remaining fed buildings couple years ago, people might believe in the authenticity of your argument. Instead, you were celebrating. Your selective preservationist act tells everyone your real intent.

      And your whitewashing of Andrew Jackson is absolutely gross, by the way. He didn’t just “fight Native Americans,” he committed genocide.

  5. Jenice Anderson says:

    You live on stolen land. No Lisjan Ohlone live here because they’ve been forced out to build the Victorian mansions you all love so much. Our city has destroyed their burial grounds and paved over places where they held ceremonies and planted medicinal gardens. A land tax is the absolute least we can do. I say give them Land Back but you’d bitch and whine about that too. The fact that Marilyn agrees with Trish on this says a lot more about her than Trish.

    • dave says:

      I can’t speak for others’ living arrangements, but I don’t live on stolen land. I live on purchased land, which I bought with my own plus a hunk of the bank’s money, and to which I have legal title, and for which I pay property taxes.

  6. Maybe this is common knowledge among church-goers, but I’ve heard that the word “Tithe” is of common heritage with our word “Tenth”, i.e. 10% of one’s earnings. Maybe this is a coincidence, but giving 10% to people who have God’s authority on their side is traditional. So is the proposal that The City should pay this tax at 10% a year, and that the money should go to the non-profit mentioned above? I’m not sure where the current 2 acres is, but without housing on it, it’s probably worth about $3M. So $11M a year would be quite a boon to their efforts!

  7. Sunrey says:

    It’s outrageous that any tax money be spent for purposes other than what benefits Alameda residents.
    There has got to be a law against this sort of thing, hasn’t there?

  8. The Circus Is Back says:

    It’s comical to hear Trish Spencer suddenly talking about taxpayers’ money. She had absolutely no qualms about helping to force the city into an expensive and unnecessary special election that cost us $700,000, plus $11 million to $22 million of unfunded liabilities should she and her cohorts prevailed, even when everyone told them what a losing cause it was going to be with no winning outcome for her side (to preempt those who want to revise history – they were given a chance to withdraw their ballot and save taxpayer money, and they refused). Sorry if I roll my eyes a little too hard here.

    The Shuumi land tax will cost about $11,000, as I understand it.

    • His Excellency, the Grand Exalted Mayor JKW the 1st (and only, he is sui generis) says:

      And advertisement for my virtues is priceless, eleven grand is a bargain!

  9. Everyone Belongs Here Except the Racists says:

    Observer: I believe that Jenice Anderson is a native American. You lecturing her with your vilification of the indigenous peoples and both-siding the issue (mirroring Trump’s “fine people on both sides”) to justify genocide is absolutely filthy and racist. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Editor’s note:
      These comments are getting close to Twitter/”Blogging Bayport Alameda” territory, so I’m going to invoke the anti-name-calling rule. I’ll post any reply by “Observer” to the above, but that will be it for any exchanges between him/her and any pseudonymous commenter(s).

      • MP says:

        Inner-Party criticism is a weapon for strengthening the Party organization and increasing its fighting capacity. In the Party organization of the Red Army, however, criticism is not always of this character, and sometimes turns into personal attack. As a result, it damages the Party organization as well as individuals. This is a manifestation of petty-bourgeois individualism. The method of correction is to help Party members understand that the purpose of criticism is to increase the Party’s fighting capacity in order to achieve victory in the class struggle and that it should not be used as a means of personal attack.

  10. Trish Herrera Spencer says:

    If you watched the last City Council budget workshop meeting (Thursday, May 20) four councilmembers (all but me) agreed to allocate $11,000 to this voluntary “tax,” Alameda taxpayer dollars to be donated to an entity outside of the City of Alameda, with no oversight of how spent. You’ll also see Council reduce or deny many requests, including from AUSD and other Alameda organizations (Alameda Family Services) to spend money in Alameda for mental health and support services, requests for improvements to recreation facilities (which can help reduce mental health issues), etc. Council is still in budget process (no final decision made) if people want to reach out to/email Councilmembers now and participate in meetings when agendized.

    • Shuumi Land Tax says:

      Financing for mental health, recreation facilities, AUSD, etc are all very important, but none of these have any relation with the taking of land from indigenous peoples, which makes the Shuumi land tax unique and that’s why we need to frame this issue correctly. The definition of Shuumi land tax: it is an annual contribution from non-Indigenous people for living on traditional Lisjan Ohlone territory. It is not about WHERE that money is going, but the WHY – We are living on traditional Lisjan Ohlone territory, so we are paying for living on traditional Lisjan Ohlone territory. You’re framing it as “Alameda taxpayer dollars going to an entity outside of Alameda.” People who have come to terms with America’s imperial past will view this as “dollars going to an entity for taxpayers living inside of Alameda.” I am glad that the majority of council sees the wisdom in supporting this.

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