Measure Q

Santa Rosa Measure QMeasure Q would eliminate two existing quarter cent sales taxes and replace them with a single half-cent sales tax. One of those quarter-cent taxes was passed in 2010 as Santa Rosa was coping with the Great Recession and is set to expire in 2027. The other was passed in 2018 and was pitched as necessary to deal with the fallout from the 2017 wildfires. That one is set to expire in 2025. If passed, the half-cent sales tax would be in effect until 2031.

I am not in support of Measure Q for a number of reason. Most importantly, each of the quarter-cent sales taxes were sold to voters on the representation that they were temporary, to get our community out of a bad situation. First the Great Recession and then through a particularly rough fire season. They were not supposed to be permanent, but were given dates on which they would sunset, thus emphasizing that they were intended to be temporary. However, not surprisingly, the City likes having these extra funds and does not want to see them go. There are always things a City can spend money on. Part of the challenge is prioritizing those things and collecting as little as possible from its residents to accomplish those goals. Unfortunately, now that we are used to paying a 9% sales tax in Santa Rosa, why not just keep it there? It is typically much easier to sell the extension of a sales tax, than the imposition of a new one. The City is trying to convince people to vote for Measure Q by claiming that this money will be put towards fire and other emergency services. However, the Measure itself does not say that. Instead, the Measure says the money will be put in the general fund. So, while it may go towards these things, not only is it not required to do so, but what about the purposes for which the original quarter-cent taxes were passed?

Santa Rosa Wildfires require City PlanningThey are attempting to take these quarter-cent taxes that were passed to deal with specific emergency situations, and transform it into a general, we just need the money, tax. This will make it all the easier to make it permanent later on. We will be 23 years from the 2008 Great Recession and 14 years past the 2017 fire season. By then, we will all be so used to this half-cent tax it will be much easier to make it permanent and our local government will likely be asking us to pass another temporary tax to deal with the latest disaster..

By putting Measure Q on the ballot, our City is showing us that it is not doing a very good job budgeting or planning for our future. Stop gap sales taxes, like the two the City Council is seeking to replace, were agreed to by residents to get us through a tough spot, to get us to the other side. If the City is so desperate for cash that it needs these emergency taxes extended, then we need to really look at where the City’s money is coming from and realize that having 30% of the funds that feed the general fund come from sales tax puts too much pressure on small businesses and too much reliance on a growing economy. It also quickly makes sales tax look like a quick and easy fix, especially when their implementation is pitched as being necessary to get our community through an especially difficult time but is later sought to be extended for more general needs. By causing these temporary taxes to be extended, keeping our city sales tax at a whopping 9%, we are not helping our local businesses during these very trying times. Everyone is strapped for cash and while the Great Recession is 12 years behind us, and the 2017 wildfire season 3 years, we do face an array of new challenges, but the existing two quarter cent increases still exist, and will for a number of years. The question is, do we combine them and have them last even longer. The answer to that must be no.

Santa Rosa Measure Q is inadequateNow is the time for the City Council to have the conversation about where the money for the general fund comes from. Now is the time to look at the budgets, the City’s priorities, and come up with ways to reallocate what we already have. To explain to residents where all of this sales tax money is going and if the City Council still wants to extend these sales taxes, then explain why we don’t otherwise have the funds and why it must be collected from the residents in the form of a sales tax.

Each of the quarter-cent sales taxes has a sunset date. While we can extend them,citizens simply do not have the necessary information to determine whether this is the right time or method for plugging the gaps in the City’s budget with an extension of a couple of stop gap sales taxes. This is why I am opposed to Measure Q.

Homelessness:

According to a Point-In-Time homeless count, as of June 2019, there were 2,951 homeless people in this county. A 3% drop from 2,996 in 2018. While the homeless population grew 4% from 2017 to 2019, it is 35% lower than in 2011. This, despite multiple wildfires. That’s because over the past two years, the County has been able to house 3,100 people.

 

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Wastewater:
Santa Rosa has been a leader in the use of recycled wastewater for over 40 years. We have one of the largest recycled water systems in the world! About 98% of the City’s recycled water is used to irrigate approximately 6,400 acres of agricultural lands and public and private urban landscaping, with more than 12.6 million gallons per day being recycled for the Geysers Recharge Project to generate enough electricity for 100,000 households.

The Laguna Treatment Plant is a wonderful and state-of-art facility here (with a fantastic tour!) that collects wastewater from Santa Rosa, as well as partnering cities and districts, through more than 500 miles of underground pipes. The wastewater goes through a three-step process of treatment prior to disinfection, storage, and reclamation.

I believe Santa Rosa Water Division has an excellent system in place for dealing with wastewater, and I support allowing its current model to continue in their efforts unhindered, with confidence that they will continue to excel and keep up with innovations in the industry.

Economic Recovery:
We need to draw more people to our downtown businesses by taking steps to support those businesses, especially during these truly unique and challenging times. Helping our homeless population is a big step towards accomplishing that. With that will come the public feeling safer using the public parking structures. We also need to promote small business creation throughout the City. We can encourage new, green jobs to come to the area by showing that we, as a city, support businesses trying to survive.

We have some unique areas that are often overlooked because they are not downtown. For example, the live/work complexes on Sebastopol Ave. in the seventh district. This is an area that has spaces for small businesses to open and housing all close to public transportation, yet this area struggles to actually draw businesses and customers. We need to support public transportation and bicycling, making it easier for people to get to the local stores they want to visit. Economic recovery is definitely a priority but it is important to understand that this is inextricably tied to protecting our environment. Tearing down one to try and build up the other will only cause both to fail sooner than we might expect Things like the Go Local campaign are good ideas but need to work to promote businesses in all areas of the City.

Measure Q:

Measure Q would eliminate two existing quarter cent sales taxes and replace them with a single half-cent sales tax. One of those quarter-cent taxes was passed in 2010 as Santa Rosa was coping with the Great Recession and is set to expire in 2027. The other was passed in 2018 and was pitched as necessary to deal with the fallout from the 2017 wildfires. That one is set to expire in 2025. If passed, the half-cent sales tax would be in effect until 2031.

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Alternative Transportation:

I think the city does a good job promoting bicycle use, with dedicated and newly painted bike lanes. However, the city’s bike renting program was not successful. There were too many hoops to jump through and the bikes were locked up in giant cages that were only accessible after people who wanted to use the bikes got a special card from the City and those were only available at certain times. It was so cumbersome, it did not make sense for people to participate in. It must be easier.

Our city has a strong bicycle coalition. I would reach out to them and get their thoughts on a bike rental program, maybe something they oversee, and is coordinated with local bike shops. We also need a better way to track down stolen bikes. Maybe some sort of embedded tracking device with a group dedicated to bicycle retrieval. My family has been hesitant to ride our bicycles to downtown because we are afraid they will be stolen. Promoting bicycle use is not just promoting riding bikes, but also giving people the confidence to trust their bike will be there when they exit the local business or restaurant.

 

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Police Funding:

I believe that the police are currently forced into areas that they are not properly trained for. Most significantly, this includes handling non violent issues with the homeless and mental health issues. Instead, funding should be taken from the police and funneled to mental health professionals who are tasked with working directly with the homeless, one on one, to ensure each person is getting the help and medication he or she needs. There should also be mental health professionals trained to handle situations involving mental health concerns of people who are not homeless. People who know how to safely interact with others who struggle with mental health.

This will free up the police to not only focus on what they are trained to do - public safety, but it will also give them time to walk the streets and get to know people in the community. This will help rebuild trust and real relationships with these people which will ultimately increase community building and trust in the police and in return, the police will have relationships with those in the community resulting in less aggressive responses.

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Public Pension System:

In the early 1900s, the concept of “retirement” was unknown to most. People essentially worked until they no longer could, due to illness, enfeeblement or death. In the first half of that century, retirement plans and public pensions began to surface as a light at the end of the tunnel. They provided a means to give workers a light at the end of the tunnel.

Initially, plans were simple and low-risk. They provided a steady accrual of low-interest earnings with very high reliability. As the years went by, people actually retired, leaving the active workforce and putting strains on reserves. This also coincided with a growing level of competency and innovations in the world of health care. People were retiring younger, and living longer. Investments into retirement plans had to become more aggressive, and created the need to take larger risks on those investments.

The maturation of public plans, growing public payrolls, and benefit enhancements have led to a meteoric rise in pension liabilities. The federal government maintains data on public-pension assets and liabilities going back to 1945. Comparing historical data on pension liabilities to the national gross domestic product gives a decent measure of the size of promised benefits relative to taxpayers' overall ability to pay. In 1960, state and local pension liabilities totaled approximately 12.6% of GDP. By 1990, the ratio had nearly doubled to 22.2% of GDP. Then between 1990 and 2017, the ratio nearly doubled again, growing to approximately 42% of GDP. The total value of retirement benefits already earned by public workers is higher today than it has ever been.

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