Grand jury group says Piedmont gets high marks for ‘straightforward, factual’ ballot language

Members of the Alameda County Chapter of the California Civil Grand Jury Association, a nonprofit organization of former members of the grand jury, praised the city of Piedmont’s Measure F ballot language in a press release this week. The group says a 2021 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report — “The Need for Accuracy and Impartiality of Ballot Measure Questions” — drove their effort to develop a “Yelp”-like ratings system to assess all nine Alameda County local ballot measures scheduled for the March 5, 2024 election. (Piedmonter Michael Henn is one of the organization’s board members.)

From the press release:

We emphasize that the ACCGJA IS NOT evaluating the merits of the measures. We are only concerned with the accuracy and impartiality of the 75-word ballot question put to the voters. State law requires ballot labels to be “a true and impartial synopsis of the purpose of the proposed measure, and shall be in language that is neither argumentative nor likely to create prejudice for or against the measure”. Unfortunately, many jurisdictions violate the law by exaggerating the benefits and glossing over the costs, as well as adding extraneous verbiage designed to favor passage of the measure. No one other than the agency promoting the measure is required to approve the agency’s language. To counteract this, there is a need for active and consistent monitoring and evaluation of local government’s ballot language.

Of the nine Alameda County ballot measures, Piedmonters will be able to vote on three — a city parcel tax and two County measures. (The other measures relate to Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Hayward, and San Leandro school districts and one for the city of Oakland.)

The ACCGJA’s analysis:

City of Piedmont, Measure F

To increase funding for essential police, fire, and paramedic services, maintain parks, greenspaces, and public areas, and preserve recreation, public parks, recreation and public works, and community services, shall Ordinance 771 N.S. be adopted to renew the City of Piedmont’s expiring four-year parcel tax with a twelve-year parcel tax with annual rates between $743 and $1,254 per single family residential parcel, $1,254 or $1,882 per commercial parcel, or $515 per multi-family dwelling unit, subject to CPI adjustment, raising approximately $3,272,000 annually?

Type: Parcel Tax, Vote required: 2/3

SCORE: 4.2

Comments: This measure was only minimally scored down from the maximum of five for failing to explain the amount of the increase in taxes relative to the existing similar tax that was being renewed. Otherwise, the language was relatively straightforward and factual.

Alameda County Measure A

Charter Amendment – Notification Period of Civil Service Examinations

Shall Section 36(b) of the Charter of the County of Alameda be amended to change the notification period of each civil service examination from not less than 25 days to not less than 14 calendar days?

Vote Required: 50% +1

SCORE: 3.8

Comments: The score was lowered from the maximum of five because of lack of clarity provided as to the intent or need for the change. Otherwise the language was found to be straightforward and did not provide superfluous language designed to prejudice the voter one way or the other.

Alameda County Measure B

Charter Amendment – Adopting State Law Recall Procedures for Use in Alameda County.

Shall Section 62 of the County of Alameda Charter governing the recall of elective and appointive County officers be amended by replacing the current language, in its entirety, with “California state law applicable to the recall of county officers shall govern the recall of County of Alameda elected officers?”

Vote Required: 50% +1

SCORE: 3.5

Comments: The score was lowered from the maximum of five because, similar to Measure A, the County Charter amendment did not provide sufficient clarity as to why the change was needed or any fiscal/election process/ or other impacts. The language also omitted the important information that the change would remove the existing opportunity of voters to recall non-elected County officials.

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