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The breakdown: three local ballot measures explained

on October 13, 2018

Two city-level measures on the ballot in Richmond propose to raise taxes for programs to support kids, the homeless and affordable housing. A third measure would tax marijuana cultivators to raise money for the county’s general use.

Election day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

To help you make an informed decision at the voting booth, we’re explaining the three ballot measures in this story. (Click here to check if you’re registered to vote.)

Below is an overview of Measure H, Measure T and Measure R.



This city-level measure proposes an increase to the current property transfer tax in Richmond.

A property transfer is the sale or granting of a property from one person to another. The current tax in Richmond is 0.7% of the property’s sale price, regardless of the price of the property.


If the measure passes, any property sold in the city of Richmond with a value between $1 million and $3 million would be charged a 1.25% property transfer tax, up from 0.7%.

Properties with a value between $3 million and $10 million would be taxed at 2.5%. Properties with a value over $10 million would be taxed at 3%. Property transfer taxes for any properties under $1 million would remain at 0.7%.

According to the city, average annual revenue would be $4.8 million. A specific use for revenue has not been determined; revenue would be used “for public purpose.”


Measure H is endorsed by the majority of the Richmond City Council, Board of Supervisors member John Gioia, and RYSE Youth Center, among others.

Supporters of this measure argue this tax will only affect luxury real estate property sales because the average sale of a home in Richmond is half a million dollars.

Measure H is proposed as a general tax, but revenue from this measure is meant to fund the Kids First Initiative passed in the June 5, 2018 primary elections.

The kids’ initiative directs city money toward services and programs for youth and their caregivers. Services might include violence prevention, parent/guardian support and job training, among others. This initiative, however, is not funded.

According to Mayor Tom Butt, “If the city passes a general fund revenue measure, that money has to be used for Kids First.”

Measure H is a general fund measure, thus ensuring its funding would go toward the kids’ initiative.


Measure H is opposed by the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. It is an organization that watches for financial “waste, fraud and abuse” by local governments, according to Sue Pricco who serves as the West County branch chairwoman.

The taxpayers’ association argues that revenue from this tax increase may be diverted toward paying the city’s $319 million in unfunded pension obligations.



Trying to address the hundreds of vacant properties and rising homeless population in Richmond, the city council voted unanimously to put Measure T, a city-level measure, on the ballot.

This measure would impose a tax on most vacant properties. To read Richmond Confidential’s additional reporting on this measure, click here.


This measure would establish an annual tax of the following amounts:

Vacant, developed parcels–$3,000

Vacant, undeveloped parcels–$6,000

Vacant residential units–$3,000 (includes condominiums, duplexes, and townhouse units)

Vacant parcels with ground floor commercial activity allowed–$3,000

The revenue would be placed in a special fund and used only to reduce homelessness, provide resources and programs for homeless people, maintain current affordable housing in the city and build new affordable housing.

Some owners of vacant lots, such as those who are low income, cannot live on the property for specific reasons, or whose property is used for agricultural purposes or is vacant and under “active construction,” may be exempt from the tax.

According to the city finance director, revenue is estimated to be $5.1 million per year.


Supporters of Measure T argue that blighted vacant properties are a public safety concern that remain underfunded. They say that most owners of vacant properties are not Richmond residents, thus ensuring the tax will not affect the city’s population.

While opponents argue revenue might be used toward the city’s $319 million in unfunded pension obligation, Mayor Tom Butt says the measure is “a better created revenue stream that can only go for two purposes: homelessness and code enforcement.”

In addition to creating a special fund, the measure creates an oversight commission to target homelessness and blighted properties.


The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association is also opposed to this tax measure. Association board member and Richmond resident Ben Steinberg argues that Richmond “needs to get its financial house in order.” Steinberg says the city must first address excessive pay of city staff before taxing residents to raise revenue.

“Not only does Richmond really have a lot of city staff,” he says. “It pays them, I think, an exorbitant amount.”



This county-level measure would tax marijuana businesses in all unincorporated areas in Contra Costa County. Recreational marijuana use in California was legalized in 2016, but in the county it remains untaxed. The county also does not currently impose any registration or reporting requirements on marijuana businesses.

This measure would tax any “commercial cannabis activity.” This activity includes the cultivation, sale, distribution and manufacturing of marijuana.


People who cultivate marijuana for commercial use will be taxed an annual amount of $7 per canopy square foot. Four percent of their revenue, without deducting for operation costs, will also be taxed. This will only apply to people in the unincorporated areas of the county.

This tax is estimated to generate between $1.7 million and $4.4 million annually, and the revenue will go toward the county’s general fund.


The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors has proposed this measure as a way to test marijuana products as a safety precaution, decrease violent crime as a result of illegal marijuana operations and require an identification card when purchasing marijuana to ensure it is not sold to minors.

In response to the taxpayers’ association argument that revenue might be used to pay the county’s $1 billion pension debt, the board of supervisors says its pension obligations are funded well above the national average. The board also directs voters toward its credit rating score of AAA. 


Taxpayers’ association president Jack Weir argues this tax measure will drive up black market drug sales.

According to Weir, taxing marijuana growth and sale will raise the price of marijuana above the black market price, thus “tipping the market in favor of the illegal drug trade.”

The association also argues the county could divert revenue toward its nearly $1 billion in unfunded pension obligation.

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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