Visitor tax increase will be on Pismo’s ballot in November


For the first time in nearly three decades, Pismo Beach residents will get to decide if visitors to the city should be charged more during their stay.

Measure B-20, which would increase the city’s transient occupancy tax by 1 percent, will be on Pismo’s ballot in the upcoming November election. Pismo Beach City Council voted unanimously on June 2 to put the measure on the ballot, an effort to generate more funding for police and firefighter services and facilities, improved emergency response times, and environmental protection work in Pismo.

TOURIST TAX Despite coronavirus-related travel restrictions, downtown Pismo Beach was bustling on May 29. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • TOURIST TAX Despite coronavirus-related travel restrictions, downtown Pismo Beach was bustling on May 29.
“I think this tax, if approved by voters, would certainly help our response times and service levels,” Mayor Ed Waage said at the June 2 City Council meeting.

Currently, visitors staying in hotels, RV parks, and other short-term lodging facilities in Pismo Beach are charged a 10 percent transient occupancy tax, funds that are collected by lodging facilities and then transmitted to the city. Each year, transient occupancy taxes make up about 45 percent of Pismo’s roughly $24 million general fund.

If approved, Measure B-20 would increase that tax on visitors to 11 percent, which city staff say would generate about $1 million in general fund revenue for Pismo each year. That money could go toward a variety of projects that city staff say are needed, including a new public safety facility for Pismo’s police and fire departments.

“Our fire station is basically a garage,” Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis told New Times.

Pismo’s fire station at 990 Bello St. was initially built for volunteer firefighters. The station doesn’t have sleeping quarters. Instead, Lewis said, Pismo’s firefighters sleep in a triple-wide modular home a few buildings away. When firefighters get a call, they have to run from the triple-wide to the fire station, which Lewis said adds about a minute to every call.

The city has also outgrown its police department, and Measure B-20 could help fund a centralized public safety facility. It’s a potential project that Pismo residents seem to be in support of, according to Lewis, despite recent local and nationwide protests against police brutality, racism, and calls for various municipalities to funnel funding away from police and into other community services.

But Lewis said the Pismo Beach Police Department stands out in SLO County as the only agency accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The commission was formed in 1979, in part by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, to improve law enforcement performance. Agencies accredited by CALEA go through rigorous training regularly and have to meet higher transparency standards and performance standards, many of which Lewis said are similar to the demands of those attending Black Lives Matter protests.

Along with public safety, Measure B-20 would also likely go toward maintaining Pismo’s groundwater supply and keeping its beaches clean, all services that Lewis said tourists in Pismo use regularly.

“For us the [transient occupancy tax] seemed to be the best bet,” Lewis said, “so our visitors are paying more for these services.”

The tax hasn’t been changed since 1991, and Lewis said that when the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, Pismo is expecting an influx of visitors.

“We know an increase in the transient occupancy tax rate can be a concern for the lodging community,” Lewis said, but the city will continue to work with the lodging industry to ensure tourism isn’t negatively impacted.

If approved, Measure B-20 would go into effect in January 2021. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

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