Battle takes shape over SLO sales tax renewal

August 7, 2014

moneyBy JOSH FRIEDMAN

The San Luis Obispo city sales tax initiative has a new name, and campaigns have kicked off both for and against the measure.

Previously known as Measure Y, San Luis Obispo’s half-cent sales tax has taken on the name of Measure G in the upcoming November election. If Measure G passes, the half-cent tax will extend for eight years, but if it fails, the tax will expire at the end of March 2015.

Several organizations and many prominent citizens in San Luis Obispo are backing the sales tax renewal. They have launched a website, created a fundraising committee and begun soliciting donations.

On the other hand, opponents of Measure G have neither a fundraising committee nor a website. They boast just a ballot argument that takes aims at bloated city salaries and pensions, particularly those of the current and most recent city managers.

A group of five Measure G supporters, which includes Madonna Enterprises President Clint Pearce, authored a ballot argument in favor of the sales tax renewal. The Measure G proponents argue that the city made proper use of Measure Y money and that it deserves to keep the annual revenue stream of about $6.5 million.

“We believe city officials have been responsive to residents’ needs and priorities, and have invested wisely,” the ballot argument states. “The revenue has enabled the city to fix potholes and resurface streets; to acquire open space and improve public parks; to increase and improve bike lanes, and to add police officers to enhance safety downtown and reduce noise in neighborhoods.”

The Measure G proponents also state that the tax initiative provides extra assurance of proper handling of the funds.

“A special citizen’s oversight commission will be created to monitor future spending and ensure that the revenue will continue to support essential services,” the ballot argument states.

Three citizens opposed to the tax initiative, including former mayor and county supervisor Peg Pinard, signed a ballot statement arguing against Measure G. They contest the city broke its promise to voters and spent the Measure Y money on salaries and pensions rather than on infrastructure projects.

“Election-time promises are meaningless sales pitches derived from years of polls paid for by you, the city taxpayer, to discover what you’ll vote for,” the ballot statement reads. “Salaries grew about $6,000,000 per year, essentially absorbing Y’s tax proceeds.”

The Measure G opponents state that the current city manager earns 28 percent more than California’s governor and her predecessor receives a pension of $159,000.

Former city manager Ken Hampian, the recipient of the approximately $159,000 pension, is participating in the pro-Measure G campaign. In a July email obtained by CalCoastNews, Hampian asked city retirees to support the Measure G campaign and provided the former employees with donation forms.

“However one might feel about current city issues and politics, SLO needs our support right now,” Hampian wrote. “And so does the organization which gave us such great careers.”

In addition to Hampian, the pro Measure G campaign lists former mayor Dave Romero and Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong among its supporters. The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed Measure G, and the Downtown Association supported the push to place it on the ballot.
Most of the public speakers during recent council hearings on the ballot measure supported the initiative as well.

On the ballot statement supporting Measure G, proponents claim that the city spent 60 percent of Measure Y money on capital improvement projects. The ballot statement argues that city audits of the Measure Y funds prove that the majority of the money indeed went toward capital improvements.

While audits show much of the money going to city projects, the city’s definition of a capital improvement project has changed repeatedly since the onset of the tax measure. During the last few months alone, city officials have offered several different definitions.

City finance director Wayne Padilla defined capital improvements project as non-routine maintenance and projects costing $25,000 or more. Public Works Director Daryl Grigsby has offered multiple definitions, such as projects that create new public assets or enhance the function of existing ones.

But, the city seems to have settled on Assistant City Manager Michael Codron’s definition — any project that is listed in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan. That definition allows the city to classify routine maintenance, like street paving, as a capital improvement project.

In addition to arguing that the city diverted the Measure Y money away from capital projects, the Measure G opposition contends that the city is not as broke as staffers claim it is.

“The city banks a huge cash reserve – equal to about 34 percent of its annual expenditures,” the opposition ballot statement says. “This ‘surplus’ accumulated year after year, even during the recession, while the city talked about being broke.”

The city’s investment portfolio, which accumulates reserves from various city funds, currently totals about $90 million in cash and investments. The city prioritizes liquidity over yield in its investments, so it can tap into portfolio funds in order to backfill expenses.

Measure Y currently brings in more than $6.7 million in annual revenue, according to the most recent city report, which accounts for about 12 percent of the city’s general fund. If Measure G fails and the half-cent sales tax expires, the city would likely lose more than $7 million in annual revenue, as Measure Y revenue has been increasing yearly.

In 2006, Measure Y passed with about 65 percent of the vote. A simple majority vote will determine the fate of Measure G.

Accompanied with Measure G, a $177 million school district bond measure and a $285 million community college bond measure will also appear on the November ballots in San Luis Obipso.


32 Comments

  1. SamLouis says:

    When Measure G fails and Katie Lichtig/Michael Codron begin to whine about a “reduction in city services”, I propose the following ten steps be immediately taken:

    1) Terminate both Lichtig and Codron for their inability to manage so as not to negatively impact services. Just pay the severance. Both are a cancer on the city.

    2.) Hire a competent city manager. Carter comes to mind but there are plenty of others that ache to live in SLO. Eliminate Codron’s position altogether.

    3.) Judiciously contact-out more services. Set a beginning goal of a 10% increase. Begin with those city porta-potties for Farmer’s Market. How in the world did the city find itself in that business?

    4.) Raise the price to use Mission Plaza by 50% Just do it. It will remain packed.

    5.) Get rid of all the foofy crap that’s springing up around town that costs money to install, makes the city look like a cartoon and costs even more to maintain. Yes, I know that Pierre will be upset, but that’s life.

    6.) Sell (or even give) that silly block-long firetruck to Cal Poly. Send the “professional” firefighters with it.

    7.) Get rid of all the damned SLOPD SUVs. Make the SLOPD drive around in Toyota Tercels or Honda Civics. They are quick in town, safe, fuel efficient and cheap to maintain. Their use might also serve to instill a little basic humility. “Supervisors” can drive GMC Astro mini vans.

    8.) Get rid of those “fundraising meters” unless the city can prove that they actually bring in more then they cost to service and maintain.

    9.) Rent out the former SLO City Library (currently the SLO Little Theater) as private office space. Better yet, move some SLO City functions into it which are currently housed in rented offices.

    10.) Task the new city manager with reducing the budget by 10% across the board without impacting services. That cannot be done you say? Bull manure. Then you hired the wrong manager. Just do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

    • kkeene88 says:

      Well Sam, parts of your #1 and #2 may be taken care of before you know it. The CC majority in MB -irons, smuckler and christine johhson are looking for a manager who will bend with their every whim and allow himself/herself to be manipulated.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

    • womanwhohasbeenthere says:

      I could not have said it better -thank you! I would add that the city council can change pension benefits without a vote of the people under Measure A – this needs to be done ASAP. The pension costs are bleeding us dry but the council refuses to pay down our $150 MILLION debt to CalPERS and continues to give raises, etc. especially to incompetent management who have gotten us into this mess.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

    • SamLouis says:

      I should add that when Lichtig is fired, she needs to take her girlfriend Christine Dietrick with her before she provides the city with more horrid (and costly) legal advice.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  2. SamLouis says:

    This is sickening. All the fat cats support Measure G because they want to ram their own snouts into a deeper and larger trough. How absolutely sickening. The worst part is that with their considerable financial resources (much of it from taxpayers to begin with) and the Tribune in their back pocket they really can influence the vote.

    What exactly would this Measure G money be used for? Continually increasing salaries, wages and benefits (especially retirement benefits) for SLO City employees of course. What else? Maybe a few more of those ridiculous signs that announce “special” parts of the town? Maybe we could buy another block-long firetruck or some more of those silly looking cop cars? Oh wait, I know! We can sell the downright stupid belief that because SLO is the “best city (LOL!) it needs to pay the highest wages to get the best people.”

    Just walk around Downtown SLO. Just look at all the tacky things that are being placed by the city anywhere there is a spare square inch of room. This to me smacks of too many staffers without enough real work to do (no, I don’t need to hear your songs and dances about how “busy” you all are) and too much money around to burn in order to justify Measure G.

    Measure G: Absolutely no way!

    Cuesta College Bond: Absolutely no way!

    SLO Coastal Unified School District High School Bond: Absolutely no way!

    Live within your means you administrators, managers and educators! Try it — it’s an excellent discipline. You might actually begin to earn your paychecks if you try hard enough.

    There will be a reckoning. It’s going to be a helluva lot less bloody if it starts sooner rather than later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  3. mkaney says:

    A classic political strategy has been implemented… many of the otherwise likely opponents to measure G like the downtown association and Clint Pearce appear to have been bought off, obviously with the little bit of funds that have or will be spent on capital improvements.

    Mr. Pearce, what are you thinking man? You will benefit far more if the city is backed into a corner on this because next year they will put it up again but be forced to guarantee the expenditures will be on capital improvements.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

    • hijinks says:

      Pearce and the developers behind the thing (Rademacher is in the development, so is Pease — that’s their campaign committee, three developer cronies) because G means subsidies for developers. Under new city council policy, taxpayers will “share” the costs of development from here on out. The money to “share” has to come from someplace, right? G’s the place.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

      • SLOBIRD says:

        Don’t forget Ken Hampien! He and Bill Statler are the two highest paid City retirees and Hampien is a hidden player for the committee sending letters and donation forms to retirees and other groups encouraging them to support the ongoing tax. Hampien created this mess (raising the retirement benefits for which he benefitted the most including giving manager free retired medical) and tried to create the solution (implementing the sales tax measure). He is the biggest leech at the trough and knew exactly what he was doing for which he benefitted the most of any employee!

        All Developers will benefit by having the City pay half their fees (Madonna has the most to gain).

        Chamber of Commerce benefits by having new businesses and programs implemented and supported buy the City.

        Homeless Coalition benefits by having the City donate more funds, waiving upcoming fees, and donating more staff time.

        Cal Poly benefits with ongoing contracts for transportation for staff and students, fire services, performing arts costs, and by supporting the City and then the City is going to support Cal Poly’s new ventures (EX: read the fish wrap today and see where Pearce/Madonna totally is supporting the new Cal Poly hotel, center, etc. for the good of the community). Anyone hear of bedfellows. Does Dalido vs Madonna projects in the City ring any bells involving our honorable Mayor working for the Copelands to back stab Dalido? BEDFELLOWS or CARPETBAGGERS???!!!

        VOTE NO ON ALL TAXES OR GET SCREWED!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. shelworth says:

    No.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  5. womanwhohasbeenthere says:

    Measure G is a sham. The money was spent on salaries and benefits for city employees including about 20 new ones. As the article stated “Capital Improvement Project” has become basic maintenance. New windows at the senior citizen center? That is a Capital Improvement Project according to the city. To me it’s called maintenance. Ditto the new steps at city hall – they were crumbling and finally replaced. If they had not been there before and were really new, THAT would be a Capital Improvement Project. I consider anything being fixed as maintenance, which was being done regularly long before Measure Y was passed.

    We were lied to. What do we have to show for $46 million? Was Laguna Lake dredged? Were any new buildings built? We have a handful of green bike lanes and two unidentifiable blocks of Higuera Street “beautified” – I still don’t know which two blocks they are, do you? Oh and 20+ new employees, who unbelievably are also considered Capital Improvement Projects! Are you any better off $46 million later?

    The city has over $90 million in reserves making less than 1/2 of 1% (0.05%) because it is kept in liquid assets so it can be diverted for expenses. Most of this money is earmarked for specific projects which keep getting kicked down the road and will ultimately cost a lot more. The city isn’t broke, just mismanaged. The city owes over $150 MILLION to CalPERS but allocated less than $1 million toward this bill – now the city wants to put out a pension obligation bond to fund this. More taxes.

    The paradigm must change. Employees need to go; money must be managed better; REAL CIPs should be done ASAP before they become more expensive; the CalPERS bill goes up exponentially and must be paid down; surplus property should be sold; and the Council MUST utilize its authority under Prop. A to make pension changes.

    Vote NO on G. They lied and they will lie again. Make them manage on what they have or this tax will be with us forever and we sill still have nothing to show for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 1

  6. MBwaiter says:

    Michael Codron ? Why is he deciding what the definition of Capital Improvemets projects is? Please leave with Katie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

    • kkeene88 says:

      SLO City, pay attention, the definition that has been provided to you is ridiculous, not
      consistent with any standard accounting/finance definitions or terminology.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

    • Human Reason says:

      Michael Codron always reminds me of the Saturday Night Skit Liars
      :
      Hello, my name is Michael Codron, and I’m a member of Pathological Liars Anonymous. In fact, I’m the president of the organization!

      I didn’t always lie. No, when I was a kid, I told the truth. But then one day, while I was working as Planner for the City I misrepresented a project and got caught by the Commission. I blamed it on the Applicant and the Commission denied the project and scolded the Applicant… Yeah that’s what happened!

      After that, lying was easy for me. I lied about ordering the flag raised on Pearl Harbor day by blaming Mayor Jan Marx. I lied about expenses in the budget. Yeah that’s what happened!

      And now I lied about what a Capital project is ! Yeah it’s any project that is listed in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan. Yeah that’s the definition. Yeah and I decide what’s on the list so I can put anything I want on it… Yeah…. routine maintenance, street paving… yeah meals and snacks at Council meetings is a a capital improvement project. Then Katie told me about Pathological Liars Anonymous.

      Oh, you’d be surprised how many other City folks belong. In fact, at one of the meetings, Katie Lichtig, Christine Dietrick and Monica Irons were there along with the King of Pathological Liars, her husband, Jamie Irons. Yes, I’m a change man now, and all because of Pathological Liars Anonymous. Yeah. Yeah.. Yeah…In fact, I just got hired by Morro Bay to be their City Manager Yeah that’s the ticket! Yeah, you betcha!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 2

  7. tomsquawk says:

    basic rule of economics; once you give someone something, it can’t be taken back

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

  8. achillesheal says:

    Forget all of these alphabet measures. measure “O”, where All money should go to Obama and he should decide, by our virtue, how much we are entitled to receive is the answer.

    Obamas directors of finance, jay z and beyonce, could right the economic ship within a week.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 21

  9. Jorge Estrada says:

    Forget the excuses, this is a classic example of what happens to a fix it tax with term limits. Poof, now it is the needed ongoing revenue stream.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 3

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