In 2014, Richmond residents passed a quarter cent sales tax, Measure U. The Measure, which is expected to bring in about $8 million in revenue this year, was intended to fund “essential city services, such as public safety, public health and wellness programs, city youth programs and street paving.”
The Measure was celebrated as a means to fix local streets and pave the way for better bike paths. City planners (and Bike East Bay) looked to Measure U as a means to complete the growing bike network, and get some new projects on the ground, such as completion of the Richmond-Ohlone Greenway connection at San Pablo Ave.
One key detail: Measure U was passed a general tax in order to avoid the two-third voter approval threshold required for any specific purpose tax (such as Measure BB, in Alameda County). As a general tax, Measure U’s proceeds can be shifted to other city services.
As it happens, the city was until recently struggling to make up a $9 million budget deficit. In order to pass a balanced budget, Richmond elected officials announced this past week that the Measure U funds will be shifted.
“I want to make sure we keep the commitments we made during Measure U, but having said that, our first priority is balancing the budget and getting our bond rating where it needs to be,” said Councilman Jael Myrick.
This move comes shortly after Richmond’s issuer ratings and pension bonds were downgraded by Moody’s due to increased spending and pension debt.
Local funds like Measure U have less strings attached and can help match federal funds, so it is doubly unfortunate to see this brand new source of revenue taken back so swiftly.
“The Richmond BPAC was advocating for Measure U specifically because we were told that 50% of the funding would go for street repair and to complete the funding gaps in bicycle infrastructure related projects that our city was fortunate enough to be awarded,” wrote Najari Smith, Chair of the Richmond BPAC and founder of Rich City Rides. “These projects are now in jeopardy because there is no funding to match them. This could result in a loss of money that was awarded to Richmond through much effort from city staff and advocates like myself. There needs to be a better plan.”
Richmond city staff and local groups have been actively applying for ATP grants, and with the upcoming County-wide transportation Plan and a possible new Measure J, there continue to be other sources of funds.
In the News:
Richmond to use road fund money to balance budget: 6/18/2015 – Contra Costa Times
Moody’s downgrades Richmond, cites pension debt, increased spending: 5/29/2015 – Contra Costa Times