What’s been described as the biggest boon to San Luis Obispo City coffers is set to sunset late next year, and the wheels are already in motion to get residents’ input on whether the sure-to-be debated renewal of Measure Y should be put up for a vote, or whether “alternative” revenue measures will be floated with any sincerity.
And how does the City Council plan to do that? You guessed it, you smart cookie, you: a citizen panel, or “Local Revenue Measure Advisory Committee,” that includes a $30,000 public opinion survey and $10,000 for a third party to facilitate the meetings and workshops.
But whether that committee will be a true representation of resident diversity or just “the same suspects” is already up for debate.
Measure Y, the half-cent sales tax approved by 65 percent of the electorate in 2006, is set to expire in December 2014. According to the city, it generates approximately $6.5 million annually for “essential services.” For the 2013-15 fiscal years, about 37 percent of that is allocated to be spent on infrastructure maintenance, 29 percent for maintenance services, 25 percent for public safety, and the rest going toward neighborhood wellness, open space preservation, and traffic congestion relief.
Whether those dollars have been appropriately allocated is a city-wide concern, most notably after more than $760,000 was spent on beautifying just two downtown blocks of mission-style sidewalk in late 2011.
But on July 16, the SLO Council majority approved a resolution that establishes the citizen advisory committee: nine good men and women appointed through consensus of at least three council members to “guide outreach efforts, advise staff in the creation of the outreach effort, and implementation of the Major City Goal work plan, as well as provide advice and counsel to the City Council regarding future revenues,” according to a staff report.
The city will be accepting applications from July 19 through Aug. 16. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19, and will work on understanding community preferences, contemplating alternative (to Measure Y) revenue measures, and settling upon their own recommendation, which will then be finalized in a report to be reviewed by the public and council in April 2014.
Funds for the committee are already covered in the budget, with $50,000 set aside in the 2013-15 Financial Plan for “local revenue planning measures.”
It will also be subject to the Brown Act, with meetings and workshops posted for public participation.
But the council majority, which spoke to its commitment to considering alternatives to Measure Y’s renewal, has already sung the measure’s praises.
The council’s newest member, Carlyn Christianson, pointed out that while on the campaign trail for June’s special election, her vocal support of Measure Y was a prominent part of her platform.
Mayor Jan Marx was successful in revising language in the resolution that would allow members of existing advisory bodies to apply for the gig.
“I’m not saying we would, necessarily, but … if somebody were very interested in Measure Y, they should be able to be considered,” Marx said.
That partially underscored concerns raised by Councilman Dan Carpenter that the public is keenly aware that the city and a majority of the council already support a renewal of Measure Y, and that anybody likely to be brought aboard would be “the same suspects.”
“I think the public perceives this as a done deal. I keep hearing, ‘I’m already supportive of it, and yet I want to go through the motions,’” he said. “I don’t think that serves the community well and would rather see a very independent group of people.”
Carpenter—who was ultimately the lone dissenter on the resolution—also took issue with spending $30,000 on a public survey.
“To pay someone to go out and [poll] the public, you’ll just get the results you want,” he said.
Councilwoman Kathy Smith also had concerns, but hers ended up adding $10,000 to the group’s price tag—the cost of a third-party, non-city staff representative to lead the meetings, as to not bias the group.
“Facilitators have a point of view, and it’s impossible to set it aside. [Staff] wants this money,” Smith said. “I don’t feel the public will have confidence in that process.”
She ultimately won over everyone save for Carpenter, and language was added to appropriate the additional money to pay for the facilitator.
The city will begin accepting applications—only through its website —from residents living within the city limits on July 19.