The city of Salinas is going to court in an effort to block a special tax initiative from going before voters in March.
Last year, as city officials mulled how they might boost revenue in tough economic times, they considered two routes on extra taxes: a general tax, which requires just 50 percent of the vote to pass and can be spent on a variety of uses, or a special tax, which needs two-thirds of the vote to pass but can be earmarked for a specific purpose.
City Council opted for the general tax, and voters approved a 1-cent sales tax increase on Election Day in November.
But supporters of a special tax to bolster the police, fire and code enforcement departments gathered enough signatures to get a special election for their own 1-cent tax measure, which they claim would replace Measure G.
The city's lawsuit, filed Dec. 17 in Monterey County Superior Court, names Claudio Valenzuela, registrar of voters for Monterey County, and Amit Pandya and his Salinas Committee for Public Safety 2014, which collected the petition signatures.
"[The parties] seek to place on the ballot, by special election scheduled for March 24, 2015…an additional tax that is illegal and invalid," the complaint states. "The special tax initiative is an illegal measure that cannot be submitted to the voters."
Salinas' current sales tax rate is 1.625 percent, and per California law, can't exceed 2 percent. City Attorney Chris Callihan reasons that the public safety tax—another 1 percent—would push them over that 2-percent threshold.
Pandya claims the public safety measure would replace Measure G, toppling the city's contention that the Salinas sales tax rate would exceed 2 percent.
Another problem Callihan cites repeatedly in the claim: The election would cost an estimated $765,000, a big expense for a measure he claims be illegal even if it gets two-thirds of the vote and is approved.
In the lawsuit, Callihan also argues the tax measure is problematic for other reasons. The measure calls for 100 new police officers within 10 years and a new police station. But such specifics aren't technically allowed to be governed by ballot measure, per the city charter.
Pandya believes he and his committee can prevail in court and put the ballot initiative to voters this spring. "We do not know of a single judge who will get between the people and their ballot measure," he says.
"There isn’t a judge who will think he is smarter or knows more than 13,000 residents.
"That petition carries the voice of approximately 13,000 people, and the city doesn’t want to listen to them," Pandya says. "That is not right."
A hearing is set for Jan. 5.