- PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
The decision could have been controversial, and it should have been controversial, but in the end the San Luis Obispo City Council was able to agree on Measure Y—with a few caveats.
Leading up to the City Council’s May 6 meeting, locals anticipated that councilmembers might disagree on whether to move forward with a Measure Y renewal, the half-percent sales tax city officials are hoping to put on the November ballot. Led by Mayor Jan Marx and City Attorney Christine Dietrick, city officials had tentatively proposed to take a vote with a simple majority, invoking case law that would allow SLO as a charter city to put the measure on the ballot with three votes rather than four.
However, city councilmembers ultimately voted unanimously to bring the issue back on May 20. In the interim, they asked city staffers to rework the proposed ballot measure and include commitments in how the city will use its funds, stress transparency with online access to show how Measure Y funds are spent, and set the framework for a committee to provide oversight.
Councilwoman Kathy Smith proposed including a citizen oversight committee that would review and approve any Measure Y expenditures. Though Measure Y first passed with 64 percent approval from SLO voters, in its aftermath critics have said the funds were not always used for the intended purpose. Specifically, many residents and some councilmembers argued that the city misled voters into thinking all money would go toward capital improvement projects, while some has, in fact, been directed toward employee compensation.
Smith, who previously said she was uneasy with renewing Measure Y as a general-purpose rather than specific-use tax, told the other councilmembers she’d be comfortable moving forward under a new direction with more oversight.
“This is the outline that I came up with that satisfies my problem with faith and trust,” she said.
When the item comes back, if Smith approves of the new direction, she’ll likely provide the necessary vote to ensure Measure Y will go back to voters. Councilman Dan Carpenter voted to continue the item to May 20, but he expressed skepticism about “babysitting” another committee.
“I see no commitment to holding down salaries or compensation … the buck stops here,” Carpenter said. “Hold us accountable, and if we don’t have the skill set to do that, then replace us, because that is our major responsibility.”
Though the new proposal drew unanimous approval from councilmembers, city staffers still must put together a plan and bring it back for approval before the measure is officially placed on the ballot.
“What I have heard is there’s a lot of support for letting people vote on this issue,” Marx said.