PIEDMONT -- Piedmont voters will decide a pair of financial propositions when they go to the polls on June 3.
Supporters and critics of a countywide tax for health care and the remodeling of Piedmont High School's Alan Harvey Theater squared off during a May 1 debate sponsored by the Piedmont chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Measure H involves a $13.5 million bond issue to upgrade and renovate the theater. The improvements would include roof repairs, heating and air conditioning work, new classrooms along with ramps and other improvements to make the theater and its restrooms handicapped accessible.
"It is undeniable that the theater needs to be fixed," said Jonathan Davis, a parent who is in favor of the bond measure. "Anyone who goes into the theater can see that."
Davis described the project as a "sensible plan" that will remodel the theater is keeping with what the designers wanted when it was built originally.
"This is a chance to do something that will be great for the next 40 years," he said.
But critics of the plan disagree.
Piedmont resident Alicia Kalamas said the project has become much bigger than was originally planned. Performing structural repairs and making the building handicapped accessible would cost only $5 million, she said.
"Are we are we trying to make repairs and upgrades to our theater and create and design accessibility or are we creating and redesigning a performing arts center?" she asked.
Davis said such claims are "very misleading." Building additional classroom space would take pressure off existing classrooms and dressing rooms would be accessible from the stage rather than downstairs or in cramped spaces, he said.
"The idea that there is some great expansion to the theater is not correct," he said.
Kalamas said the remodeling measure would put the school district at or near its maximum level of bonding capacity, a claim Davis and the supporters dispute.
Before spending so much money on the remodel, Kalamas said, the district should assess its capital improvement needs throughout the Piedmont public schools and come up with an overall plan.
"There is no rush," she said. "There is a false sense of urgency here."
Davis countered that construction costs will rise each year and waiting will only raise the inevitable price of redoing the theater.
"There is a cost to waiting and it is a very significant cost," he said. "Just pulling back right now is not a prudent idea and not a wise policy matter."
If passed, Alameda County Measure AA would extend a half-cent sales tax used to fund health care in public hospitals and non profit clinics through 2024.
The tax was passed in 2004 and will expire or "sunset"' in 2019 if the extension is not approved by a two-thirds majority in June.
Most of the funding -- 75 percent -- goes to the Alameda Health System which runs Highland, and Fairmont hospitals and the John George Psychiatric Pavilion.
Another 25 percent goes to nonprofits like Children's Hospital for services to low-income residents who would otherwise seek treatment at county emergency rooms costing taxpayers more.
At the time the measure was written, Highland was $50 million in debt and the county had to close two downtown clinics, said Kuwaza Imara, a retired nurse who worked on the original campaign. The tax was created as a safety net for those who could not get needed care due to lack of funds, Imara said.
Since its passage, the tax has enabled more than 39,000 uninsured patients to get care, Imara said.
But longtime Oakland resident David Nix disagreed.
If voters reject the measure, he said, its backers will submit it again because public agencies get used to tax revenue.
"Once the money starts flowing, they can't get loose from it," he said.