Measure H Doesn’t Play Fair

This op/ed originally appeared in the Alameda Sun on September 11, 2008

There is nothing quite like litigation to liven the local hoi polloi. Measure H, the new and highly irregular school tax, has a number of Alameda small business owners seeking relief in court.

The authors of Measure H devised a three-tier tax that discriminates in favor of big businesses and homeowners. Residents pay a flat rate while businesses pay for each square foot in their storefront (strike one).

Large businesses escaped paying hefty school taxes by having a cap added to the initiative (strike two).

Small business owners, Alameda’s new serf class, carry a disproportionate share of the new and arguably unnecessary tax burden by virtue of having the smallest voice during the debates of Measure H (strike three).

So some small business owners are taking the town to school.

Enter their attorney David Brillant. If names are omens, Alameda small business owners should win this case simply by hiring Brillant. His reading of state law covering local school taxation schemes indicates that tax burdens must be applied uniformly. In other words, no tax plan can be imposed that discriminates between neighbors. Measure H discriminates more than your average Dixiecrat. Since Measure H authors failed to do their homework they will serve after school detention until further notice.

In schoolyard vernacular, governing state law is “fair play.” Some Alamedans who apparently suffer from public educations have called it a “conspiracy.” Lacking dictionaries, local conspiracy theorists failed to note that “conspiracy” is defined as “to agree together, esp. secretly, to do something wrong, evil, or illegal.” It is an odd conspiracy to leverage the legal system in public view and front-page news stories.

Undeterred by logic and law, one local teacher blogged, “I think they’ll find that businesses that turn their backs on the clear will of the community by participating in an effort to overturn the popular results of an election will also have the community turn their backs on them.”

To simplify, this recipient of school taxes is calling for a boycott of people smart enough to read the tax law. Ignoring his inherent conflict of interest, we have to marvel that someone allegedly educating our children promotes economic hostility against neighbors who want existing fair play law enforced. If your kids suddenly refuse to eat their vegetables, you have a prime suspect for their newfound obstreperousness.

Several other Alamedans have made editorial threats of the same nature (boycotting businesses, not refusing to ingest veggies). One word-processor-impaired wag wrote, “Our schools need this money to survive,” which, aside from being patently incorrect, ignores the point. An affable island is impossible if illegalities are used to steal from neighbors. After all, small business owners have children, too, and share in the same outcome from school funding. They would simply appreciate not having strangers’ hands in their pockets. Most of us would prefer a fiscally competent school board.

Being a West Ender, I have little need to stroll Park Street, the alleged source of the fair play litigation. But I have a sudden urge to purchase a pillow or two and maybe an antique from Pauline. But my abode is cluttered as is, so stuffing their defense fund with a fiver is simpler. After all, there is nothing wrong with helping a neighbor fight an unfair law.

Guy Smith is a writer, songwriter and political provocateur. Visit him at

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