In the city of San Leandro, Calif., just south of Oakland, the sharp decline in tax revenue caused by the global pandemic exacerbated an existing budget deficit, and the City Council is looking toward real estate activity to fill the gap. The measure it has placed on the November ballot seeks voter approval on an increase in transfer taxes from $6 per $1,000 in property value to $11 per $1,000. In response, the Bay East Association of REALTORS® has hit the ground running, the REALTOR® Party by its side.
David Stark, Public Affairs Director of the almost 6,000-member association, explains that when the REALTORS® first learned of the proposed measure, they tried to explore other revenue sources with the City, such as increasing utility taxes, which would spread the burden more fairly among all residents and businesses. Another reasonable question, he notes, was whether the City was really working as ‘smart’ as it could be, before nearly doubling a tax on real estate transfers. “There had been some belt-tightening, but nothing extreme, while we’d been seeing households hurting and businesses shuttered in San Leandro. We had to ask how badly the city really needed the revenue.”
The association turned to the REALTOR® Party for help. Initial polling revealed that defeating the tax increase would be possible, and also helped determine the most effective messaging for an Issues Mobilization campaign. “There were plenty of ‘hot-button’ issues that we could have used to promote our cause, but the polling helped us to narrow it down to something that would really move the needle,” says Stark. The REALTORS® also received an Issues Mobilization Grant to fund several mailers and online advertising.
According to Stark, the association had learned from previous experience that it couldn’t simply throw money at the issue and expect to succeed, given the intense scrutiny on funding in the current political climate. So, early in the planning stages of the campaign, they knew they would have to develop a significant grassroots effort to balance the substantial resources they received from the national association. That ‘boots on the ground’ component, he says, has been key to their momentum heading toward Election Day, and they’ve had real success connecting with the community on various fronts. Media relations, he says, has played a big part: “Our 2020 President, Tina Hand, testified before the City Council; the local paper picked it up and ran a story; and locals with no connection to the REALTORS® began offering to help.” Although the pandemic prevented advocates from meeting as they normally would, Stark found that it was still possible to cultivate a grassroots surge. San Leandro residents have echoed Bay East opposition to the tax increase by posting favorable comments on the Facebook ads. Locals were taking up the cause in other creative ways: the campaign mailers opposing the tax found their way into Halloween decorations on the yard of at least one San Leandro home!
Stark’s outlook on the upcoming vote is equanimous: “I expect that the voters will defeat the measure, but even if we aren’t successful at the polls, there’s no doubt that we have compelled voters with our messaging; we’ve really been able to generate an organic grassroots movement, and looking at things long-term, there’s great value in that. If we do win big,” he adds, “it will actually strengthen our relationship with the City, which will gain an appreciation of what we can do.” Even more, he points outs, “It’s been an important opportunity for REALTORS® to demonstrate to their neighbors in San Leandro how invested they are in the community.”
To learn more about how the Bay East Association of REALTORS® is demanding fair tax laws and creating strong grassroots advocacy networks despite pandemic restrictions, contact Public Affairs Director David Stark at 925-730-4068.