The case against Measure G

September 24, 2014
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee

OPINION By T. KEITH GURNEE and DODIE WILLIAMS

The City of San Luis Obispo and the supporters of Measure G are pulling out all the stops to convince city voters to approve a ½ percent sales tax increase on Nov. 4. Bolstered by their slogan to “Keep SLO Great,” they have put together a slick Website using photos of community amenities that were completed long before Measure Y, the first eight year sales tax increase that was approved in 2006, while at the same time praising the virtues of Measure G.

With the city backing away from its promise that the Measure Y tax would end in 2015, Measure G would reenact that tax for yet another eight years.

Measure G’s supporters claim that Measure Y resulted in millions of dollars of capital improvements to improve the community that could not have happened without it. They have said that (1) it’s not a new tax increase, (2)that it will be paid mostly by nonresidents, and (3)that essential services would be lost if it doesn’t pass. Finally, they proclaim that Measure G will be nothing less than the salvation of our city.

All that would all be “great”… if it was true. The real facts prove otherwise.

The Measure G election is about public trust; trust in our elected officials to do what they said they would do with Measure Y funds and trust in our city government to manage our tax dollars wisely.

After extensive research into events both before and after the approval of Measure Y, our No on Measure G group has concluded that the city has breached that public trust. Since 2006, the city has left little more than a legacy of broken promises and questionable fiscal management practices with respect to Measure Y. Quite frankly, the city in the supporters of Measure G have been pulling the wool over our eyes.

Outlined below are a series of facts that prove this: facts that can be documented from city records and correspondence in the public record. The question before the voters is, should we reward this type of behavior with more of our hard-earned tax dollars? Or should we reject Measure G and require the city to live within its means like the rest of us have to do. We think the latter course is the wisest one and this is why:

Over the past 15 years, the city has historically spent $4-4.5 million per year on capital improvements to improve the community and there has been no appreciable increase in capital improvements spending since Measure Y was approved 8 years ago.

Prior to Measure Y, the city was spending that $4-4.5 million on “hard” capital improvements– those facilities and infrastructure needs like roads, utility lines, parks, fire stations, etc.–that were not being met. Yet today, the city now calls soft costs like studies, equipment replacement, and maintenance costs as “capital improvements” while reducing spending on the real capital improvements it promised us. Thus there has been a significant decrease in “hard” capital improvement spending since Measure Y was adopted.

Shortly after Measure Y was approved, Mayor David Romero wrote in a Viewpoint article in the Tribune stating that 72 percent of Measure Y revenues would be spent community improvements – 31 percent on creek and flood protection, 27 percent on neighborhood paving, 8 percent on traffic congestion relief, and 6 percent on open space preservation. Yet actual expenditures made since 2006 have been but a tiny fraction of those amounts.

In 2014, the city spent only 2 percent of its operational budget on traffic, 3 percent for open space preservation, and 4 percent for neighborhoods while spending 91 percent of its General Fund budget on general government costs like payrolls and pensions.

Gross city revenues before Measure Y were $43,164,400 and never dipped below this level since the “great recession” and gross city revenues for 2014 are expected to increase to $57,589,800, a 33 percent jump since 2006 not counting Measure Y funds. Including the additional expected $6+ million in revenues coming in from Measure Y, gross city revenues have increased by 50 percent, yet there has been no appreciable increase in capital improvements funding since Measure Y was approved.

The city just recently spent $75,000 on open space preservation– not in our city, but adjacent to a city that is miles away from San Luis Obispo.

In the year 2000, the city’s population was approximately 43,000 people, the city budget was $37 million, with full-time city employees earning a median annual salary of $56,000.

By contrast, today we have grown by only 1,800 residents since ( a 3.3 percent increase in population), but we now have a total operating budget of $136 million (a 367 percent increase (!)), with 150 city employees making at or over $100,000 a year.

Our city manager’s base salary is 27 percent more than that of the governor of the state of California and that of our city attorney is more than that of our state attorney general.

Prior to 2006, the city had $44.5 million in the bank as city reserves that has since increased to $93 million as of the most recent city investment committee held in Aug. 2014. Yet the city has invested it in accounts that hardly earn any return.

While Measure G supporters claim without actual evidence that others would pay most of the new tax, all city residents will be paying the tax to the tune of $1,500 per household and even more if they buy a car.

If Measure G fails, the sales tax rate for the City of San Luis Obispo would be the lowest sales tax rate of all incorporated cities in San Luis Obispo County, providing a competitive edge for our local businesses to attract additional customers and generate more economic activity to the benefit of both our local businesses and the city.

The City seems never to have planned for life after Measure Y when it expires in March 2015. Instead, the city has spent tens of thousands of dollars to fund three polls and public opinion surveys to determine how to convince voters to extend the tax increase for another eight years.

A majority of the SLO City Council is poised to get on the escalator to raise already high public employee salaries during forthcoming union negotiations. With all the money the city has in the bank, plus the additional $6-7 million that Measure G would bring in annually, the public employee unions must be licking their chops at the prospects for significant raises.

So ask yourselves, where did the Measure Y money go? And where will the Measure G money go if it approved by the voters on November 4?

All Measure Y did was provide the City of San Luis Obispo with an opportunity to execute a bait-and- switch play. It allowed the city to say, “Let’s just account for all capital improvements with Measure Y funds, throw studies and maintenance activities into our capital improvements program, and give ourselves more room in our general fund to provide for payrolls and pensions.” There is no doubt that Measure G will do the same.

So let’s get back to that slogan of Measure G supporters: “Keep SLO Great”? We must confess that looking at all their website’s beautiful photographs of Mission Plaza, the Jennifer Street Bridge, and the Bishops Peak open space preserve, certainly argues for our “greatness.” But all those projects were completed before Measure Y was passed at a time when this city actually was “great.” One must sadly conclude that since the approval of Measure Y and with the strategy that the city is pursuing to continue this source of revenue to which it has become addicted for another eight years, we’re seeing anything but “greatness.”

Measure G, just like Measure Y, is little more than fiscal sleight-of-hand, a misdirection tactic, smoke and mirrors, and a clever shell game crafted to fool voters into supporting something they should not.

There is a saying, “Fool us once shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.” If there are still some of you out there who want to be fooled, by all means support Measure G. But to those discerning voters who know better than to swallow Measure G’s false propaganda, please get out and vote.

Let’s not reward this city’s behavior with more of our hard-earned tax dollars. This is a measure that should be panned rather than praised. It’s time for this City to start living within its means like the rest of us have to do and for our City to start rebuilding the public trust it has lost since 2006. Don’t be fooled again. Just say “no” to Measure G.

Both T. Keith Gurnee and Dodie Williams served on the San Luis Obispo City Council, Gurnee in the 70s and Dodie in the 90s.

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agag1

A few years ago, we thought a SLO location would be a good fit for our business, boy were we wrong!

I don’t know what it is about SLO that makes them feel so special.

Business licenses 5 or 6 times what they are in surrounding cities. $$$

Want to join our Chamber? That will be 10 times more than surrounding cities. $$$

Fees, for this, fees for that, and fees for everything in between. $$$

Not sure which was the happier day, when we opened, or when we left years later.

No SLO for me, not worth it.


Perspicacious

I heard someone pushing for measure G by saying, “help keep our standard of living what it is”. Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME?! The arrogance of government thinking THEY can be responsible for my standard of living by taking MY hard-earned money from me? I have an idea morons, cut taxes by 90% instead of raising them all the time and watch my standard of living increase then!


I am convinced that public officials are the biggest morons on earth.


NorCoMod

Correction:

We the voters are the biggest morons on earth. We return the same jackasses to office year after year. Want a change, vote them out, happy with status quo, reelect them.

The people of SLO couldn’t be happier with their leaders.


SLOBIRD

As are most of the surrounding cities. We just keep electing the same air bags and hope for change.


I love a letter to the editor today that says Lynn Compton has no experience, as if Caren Ray was reborn and came with her instruction book.


And then, we have the fish wrap endorsing Shoal as Mayor for Grover Beach, the woman harasser of all times. Has the fish wrap ever endorsed someone that was not a demorat even if they were the better person?


STOP listening to other and read about each candidate, their viewpoints, voting records, association and supporters. Use your head!


Mariposa

Even though San Luis Obispo is not our city of residence, my husband and I used to look forward to a Sunday afternoon in SLO to enjoy the “atmosphere,” savor an ice cream cone, window shop, and walk our dogs by the creek. Free parking throughout the city. But then…SLO City Council strutted their greed and ruined it by extending the parking meter hours of operation to include Sundays. How arrogantly gluttonous. These kind of pompous actions have successfully driven us away from SLO. And it’s never enough…SLO is NEVER satisfied. The city always is crying for more. PLEASE, SLO residents with a conscience and common sense – VOTE NO ON MEASURE G.


SamLouis

The $75,000 gift by the SLO City Council to help purchase the Pismo Preserve project shows very clearly just how cavalier the council is with SLO City Taxpayer funds. Just exactly how was that justifiable? Members of the council should have shown some actual leadership and raised the money from willing donors, rather than simply writing a check from a checkbook that does not belong to them.


http://www.sanluisobispo.com/welcome_page/?shf=/2014/08/20/3204233_city-of-slo-donates-75000-to-pismo.html


Myself

Lets us not forget the money that the County Board Of Sups gave for that also,they gave a pile of taxpayer money away for a few people also.


SamLouis

It’s logical for the county to consider giving some taxpayer dollars to that project. Whether they should or not depends on the merits of the individual project and if there is money in the budget for such a gift.


It’s not logical for the CITY of SLO to make such a gift with taxpayer dollars. In fact it makes no sense at all.


Myself

No it is not logical or necessary to give county taxpayer money to those types of projects with out voter approvel,our roads and streets need to be kept up,bridges need to be repaired and a few hundred thousand would go a ways to keep this going,not give it away to a small group of tree huggers for open space,mind you with that property off of the tax rolls there is NO property tax ever again to grace our coffers and you people wonder why the cities and county are always trying to pass another tax/fee against us,wake up and stop the needless giveaway of our tax dollars,these elected people should not be able to give our tax money away like this.


SamLouis

Let me put it in these terms. It would never be appropriate to offer SLO City money for such a project. Not ever.


It’s appropriate to consider offering SLO County money depending “on the merits of the individual project and if there is money in the budget for such a gift” and I don’t think a gift of this size requires “voter approval.” We should have enough confidence in our elected officials (LOL!) to make the right choice.


The property tax issue is a non-starter. A private, non-profit could also have bought the property and it would still have went off the tax roles.


Mariposa

“Logic” defined in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828) is “versed in the art of thinking and reasoning.” What a concept for our elected leaders – embody real logic in their decision making.


toryrand

and Caren Ray, newly appointed, jumped on that bandwagon with her most recent photo op…..yet claims there is enough money for roads…..


Shocked in MB

It is a never ending disease. Politicians feel entitled to more funds so they can stroke those people that help them get reelected. A vicious vicious cycle


SamLouis

The Measure G pushers message of “Keep SLO Great” is deeply offensive. SLO remains great not due to people like them, but DESPITE people like them.


SLO enjoys the natural gifts of great weather, beautiful topography and being close (but not too close) to the Pacific Ocean. As the site of a California Mission, SLO has a long and varied history — including a historic (and ever more threatened) downtown. SLO is home to one of the greatest undergraduate universities in the nation and it’s the county seat of San Luis Obispo County — one of the most beautiful patches of land anywhere in the world.


It are these qualities and similar ones that make SLO great. It’s not those trying to drive taxes up in order to fund their pet projects. SLO City has more than enough employees and vehicles. It has more than enough street signs and painted electrical distribution boxes.


No on Measure G!


womanwhohasbeenthere

SLO Fact Finder, I couldn’t agree more. The truth is a defense! Vote NO on G!


slo Fact Finder

Can any resident of San Luis Obispo name just one (1) noteable Capital Improvement Project (a CIP) completed with the approximately $ 43 million of Measure ‘Y’ money collected by the city in the past 7.5 years ? OK, name another one now :)


How did the citizens of San Luis Obispo, ever survive BEFORE the passage of Measure ‘Y’ in November of 2006 anyway when the streets were repaved every five years, cleaned regularly, the creeks & drainage channels were free from debris, our mature street trees were trimmed and our front yard yards were actually green rather than the current brown colors seen throughout our community due to the ever increasing local water & sewer rates?


SLOBIRD

This City is not only looking at the 1/2 cent tax increase but what about all the new sales tax money rolling in the door.


Since 2006 you have Costco, Home Depot, Target, Dick’s, Olive Garden, Old Navy, Home Goods, Bev N Mor, Panda Express, TJ Max, and let us not forget the gas sales at Costco. Read the taxes you are paying for this purchase alone! All these businesses are bringing in new sales tax dollars…


This does not include the new car lots or other businesses being built out on Tank Farm Road, Broad Street, etc. plus the new homes and businesses for increase property taxes.


How much is enough? And what are we getting for this revenue? The highest paid police department, 13 new public safety employees, higher paid Finance Director, Community Development, Fire Chief, Police Chief, Public Works Director (all hired at higher salaries than their predecessors with great pensions and benefits), 2 raises for the current City attorney (with a car allowance when the Courthouse is across the street), and the best, raises for the Council and Mayor.


Name one new Open Space Property purchased in the past 5 years. NONE! That should say it all…


toryrand

police pay and staffing is up 100% in the same time…..


GoneBabyGone

If this additional sales tax was actually used as described I wouldn’t have a problem with it, none! But, as usual, it won’t be! so…. NO!