Opinion: Countywide parcel tax is a bad idea for many reasons



The five-member San Mateo County Board of Supervisors isn’t sure whether to put a parcel tax on the November ballot that would raise property taxes. So
they’ve hired a political consultant who is charging the county as much as $200,000 to find out if voters want to pay more in taxes.

One big problem is that the county isn’t clear about what the tax will fund. They’ve talked about weed abatement to prevent fires, although other agencies do that now. And they’ve talked about building sea walls because the climate change theory predicts higher sea levels. Burlingame and Menlo Park are already doing it, and it was supposed to have been funded with the county’s Measure K sales tax in 2016. It’s not clear why they want the money, but they want it.

They’ve hired a consultant to see if a tax with an ill-defined purpose would pass in November.

In dreaming up new taxes, local officials don’t go out and talk to average people. I guess they don’t want to be confronted by people who will tell them they’re crazy. So they hire a political consultant, who will always tell them that the tax will pass.

But if the five members of the board of supervisors decided to go out on their own and knock on doors, they’d hear that people — particularly the house rich, cash poor — are having a tough time paying their bills and they don’t think the county handles money very well.

In the past year, inflation has been rising and now sits at a 40-year high. Groceries and everything else in the store costs more. And gasoline is approaching $6 a gallon. High fuel prices have crushed the small businesses that managed to survive the forced Covid lockdowns. The latest information from the U.S. Census shows that residents are moving away.

Inflation and high gas prices have hammered the poor and middle class. They have to pay a larger percentage of their income on gas and groceries, so when those prices go up, there’s less money for the rent or saving for a kid’s college. The elites don’t notice the increases. They take the Marie Antoinette approach, “If gas is too expensive for these struggling people, let them drive Teslas!”

Even if the economy was strong, this tax would be in trouble because of how wasteful the county government has become.

No accountability

The most recent example was the revelation that somebody in the county government left $10 million in Covid personal protection equipment out in the rain at the Event Center. Apparently nobody cared that the county was wasting the money.

The county’s two-month-long investigation failed to publicly identify the official who decided to move the PPE outdoors. As a result, we have no way of knowing whether the person who screwed up was fired or just received a mildly-worded letter in their personnel file.

Heads won’t roll, even over a $10 million fiasco.

The lesson for county employees was that you can screw up big time and the county supervisors will have your back. So this will happen over and over again. The lesson for taxpayers is that you can’t trust the county to spend your money wisely.

People know about this waste, and the scandal won’t go away before November.

It’s not the only example of misspent money, though.

The aforementioned Measure K passed in 2016 was advertised as a way of funding housing and 911 response. But after the election, the county announced that only $15 million of the $81 million annual the tax was projected to raise would actually go for housing.

Instead, the supervisors decided to spend $700 million on new county government buildings and relat- ed IT equipment. Odd choice in a county where people were (and still are) sleeping on roadsides and under bridges.

After an outcry, the supervisors increased the amount going toward housing slightly. But they continued to put the needs of well-paid county employees first.

Fancy new meeting room

Those Measure K funds will help pay for a plush new meeting room for the five supervisors in a six-story, $151 million office building going up next to the current Government Center in downtown Redwood City.

When those plans were announced in 2018, Supervisor David Canepa said that the morale of county employees will go up with the new building.

You’ve got to wonder how a new tax will affect the morale of a family trying to make ends meet.

Ah, let them eat cake!

The parcel tax will fail, and it will bring down every candidate who supports it. You don’t need a $200,000 consultant to tell you that.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


  1. Mr. Price is 110% correct. The local politicians are simply looking for ways to move up the ladder to State office and beyond, Their thirst to spend TAXPAYER money is insatiable. These elected officials seem to forget that they are spending the money of their constituents. There are no FREE government programs, all of us pay for them.
    Wake up before it’s too late. With the Biden policies, stag-flation is coming on top of the 11.2% inflation we saw last month. Those in Silicon Valley will be seeing it soon.
    Wait until property values start dropping significantly. There is a whole generation out there that doesn’t remember Jimmy Carter. The Biden Administration is like Carter’s on steroids.

  2. Nothing is more dangerous to the interests of all citizens than self-serving governments grabbing more and more of private wealth to advance the fantasies and prejudices of a few. Government wastes far too much of the public’s money on activism, commissions, consultancies, social agendas, and misguided ideas about saving the planet and ‘equity’. New taxes are now routine – a parcel tax, a business tax, a new fee, an extended school tax, tax to pay for a bond, a tax to pay for a publicists assistant or a new social justice administrator. Over paid administration is well-documented as are excess benefit packages to bureaucrats and public safety. Local government should be trimming, not adding at a time when the economics of the peninsula are contracting. Too many of these taxes seem to be orchestrated to first get the tax passed and then think of a need.

  3. Outstanding editorial. Reminds me of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission blowing $400M of bridge tolls that were supposed to go towards road and mass transit improvements on a new headquarters for itself.

    Thing is there are way too many voters, even in these difficult times, who rubber stamp every tax increase that comes along. Put a climate change or other politically correct wrapper on it — and the gullible will go for it without fail every time.

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