After a months-long debate over one of the most divisive issues in San Luis Obispo city government, SLO voters will officially be asked whether to renew the half-percent sales tax, Measure Y.
With three city councilmembers firmly on board with a proposed ballot measure anticipated to go before voters in the November general election, councilwoman Kathy Smith leveraged her upper hand as the much-needed swing vote to provide the necessary four-person majority to put a general-use tax on the ballot.
Smith stood staunchly against proposed language that would have directed city staffers to make public presentations about Measure Y. While city staffers, the city attorney, and other councilmembers clarified that public employees could only present factual information about Measure Y and not arguments in favor of its extension, Smith maintained that presenting information should be a community-led effort, and any presentations from staff would likely lean toward promotions.
“We’ve been promoting Measure Y for the last four years, as far as I can tell,” she said.
In the end, councilmembers agreed to strike that language and went on to approve the majority of staff proposals and set the course to put a renewed Measure Y before voters. Members of the public—including the heads of the SLO Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce—have largely been in favor of Measure Y when speaking before the City Council; however, some critics have repeatedly alleged that Measure Y dollars were not directed toward capital improvement projects, as was promised, but instead into public employee compensation.
Dan Carpenter, the sole dissenting vote, said critics have remained a silent minority, and people he speaks to have lost trust in how the city spends Measure Y funds. As part of her agreement to cast the fourth vote, Smith asked for a community oversight committee to watch over Measure Y expenditures, if voters approve an extension.
“This committee, I believe, was created out of fear that the council would not be responsible enough,” Carpenter said, adding that he would “not recognize” the committee.
Measure Y was approved in 2006 with an eight-year sunset clause and expiration date of March 31, 2015. If voters approve, the city will continue to collect Measure Y tax funds for an additional eight years. Ballot arguments are due by 5 p.m., July 15.