LOCAL SPIN: Measured Response
Salinas rallying cry: Don’t let the sun go down on V.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Set aside, just for a minute, the public relations disaster the city of Salinas has created by the way it has handled the messaging around Measure V, the half-cent sales tax measure Salinas voters passed in 2005 as a way of saving its libraries from closure—and is due to sunset in 2016.
Also set aside the questionable polling the city of Salinas deployed in order to gain what’s being portrayed as a 69.3 percent supermajority of voters coming out in support of extending and increasing Measure V. In essence, the pollsters asked, “Like your quality of life? Like libraries? Like the police? Hate the gangs? Then you gotta love the new and improved Measure V, right?!”
It wasn’t quite a push poll designed to elicit an expected response, but it was close. And it did establish the premise that there is no fat left to be cut from the budget. Based on my reading of the budget—and my endless fascination with my adopted hometown’s inner workings—there is no fat left.
Put all of that away and pretend it doesn’t exist. And what Salinas residents have is the reality that Measure V is due to die its pre-appointed death in 2016, and if it does, the city once again will be faced with closing the doors on its libraries and laying off police officers.
But the unfortunate reality in its handling of the message, and the polling, is that not a single person has sat down and calmly and rationally explained how the city got to the point where it has to go back to the voters, hat in hand and seemingly teetering on the brink of disaster, to ask for an extension and increase on a tax voters were promised would end.
IF MEASURE V DIES, SALINAS WILL BE FACED WITH CLOSING ITS LIBRARIES AND LAYING OFF POLICE.
In short: Thank the state, thank the banking industry, thank the housing collapse and thank shopping in the modern era. We’ve lost revenue because declining property values have resulted in declining property taxes, and the state is no longer sharing what tax revenue there is with cities like it used to. You can also thank the Internet: Reduced economic activity and online purchasing has reduced the amount of commerce to which sales tax applies.
At what was supposed to be a joint special study session on revenue measures at Salinas City Hall on July 23 (where Councilman Steve McShane brought a platter of Rice Krispie treats, Councilman Tony Barrera flounced out of the meeting because Mayor Dennis Donohue told him he could speak only after Donohue’s presentation, and Donohue repeatedly insisted he was not there to lecture anyone, and then proceeded to lecture everyone), Donohue positioned the Measure V question as a framing issue.
Here’s how he framed it: Salinas is looking at a budget shortfall of $5 million next year. That’s the difference between keeping the libraries open or closing them; it’s the difference between keeping 33 police officers on the streets or drastically reducing the force.
And the year after that? It’s a shortfall of $8 million. When the city gets to that point, it’s no longer a matter of choosing between the libraries or the police.
It will be both.
“This is not a lecture; this is not an opinion. These are the facts,” Donohue said. “To those who would ask, ‘Why didn’t we know this?’ We did. The reason we keep getting stuck on this issue is that the [original] Measure V ask was too tepid. I want no one to be under any illusions as to where we are as a community.”
Part of the problem now with “the ask” is that while the extension has been under discussion at City Hall for some time, the half-cent increase is a little more new, at least to the public. How new? Members of the Measure V committee have publicly stated they were unaware an increase was going to be floated—until it was actually floated to the public.
The City Council will decide at its Aug. 7 meeting whether the increase and extension of Measure V should be put to voters in November, when Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for a tax increase as well.
Donohue, at the July 23 meeting, quipped that democracy is messy, but it’s still the best game in town. For Salinas residents, the Aug. 7 meeting might be the last and best chance to be heard, and to see exactly how the sausage is made. In short, it’s time for voters to engage in the messy process of democracy.
The November election brings with it a slate of candidates for the mayor’s position, and three council seats also are up for grabs. Whoever inherits those seats will also inherit the realities of the budget.
The Aug. 7 meeting also will be a good time for voters to remember this: Just because the messengers have sucked in their delivery, it doesn’t make their message any less valid.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.