(March 4, 2006) -- 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga has agendized as "new business" for the March 7 City Council meeting an item to direct the City Manager and City Clerk to take actions necessary to put a parcel property tax (drafted by City Hall to apply to residential but not commercial and industrial property) on the June 2006 ballot.
The action comes almost exactly two months after the Council voted 9-0 to defer a residential property tax ballot measure until after a November 2006 ballot measure (also sought by City Hall management) to raise LB's sales tax by a half cent for police and possibly fire purposes.
"I submit that City Council members have had opportunities to engage in community outreach to discuss the information provided at the Jan. 10 meeting. My communications with 7th District residents strongly suggest support for placing the Long Beach Neighborhood Library Protection (LBNLP) Measure prior to the November 2006 State General Election. While we have lost the opportunity to place the measure on the April 11 Primary Nominating Election, as
advised by our consultants, I am requesting City Council consideration for placing the LBNLP Measure on the June 6 2006 General Municipal Election," Councilwoman Reyes Uranga writes in her agendizing memo.
In Sept. 2005, Councilmembers voted as part of their annual budget process to reduce library funding and close libraries for additional days...and at their Jan. 10, 2006 meeting, a number of Councilmembers voiced concern that seeking a tax for libraries in April might undermine taxpayer willingness to approve a sale tax increase (with larger potential revenue) for police funding in November. The presidents of the LB Firefighters and LB Police Officers Associations stressed the importance of passing a tax increase for public safety...and LBPOA President Steve James explicitly urged deferring the library measure until after the public safety measure.
The Council ultimately voted 9-0 to "receive and file" (take no action on) the residential property tax increase for the April ballot.
Councilwoman Reyes Uranga faces a reelection challenge on the April ballot from Alex Cherin...who's endorsed by the LB Police and Firefighters unions.
Council districts 1 and 9 also have only an incumbent and a challenger on the April ballot, meaning those races will also be decided in April. Council districts 3 and 5 have multiple candidates, raising the prospect of June runoffs in those districts (if no candidate wins over 50% in April). The 2d Council district will have a "winner take all" special election in June to fill the seat vacated by Dan Baker. And there may be a citywide Mayoral runoff in June (if no candidate wins over 50% in April).
City Clerk Larry Herrera said at the January 10 Council meeting that a special citywide election in June or November would cost roughly $800,000 for each election.
Management released the text of its proposed property tax increase. written to apply only to residential property owners and exempt business and industrial property owners, only days before the January 10 Council meeting scheduled to put it on the ballot. In a December 2005 "study session" (scheduled for the holiday period just days before Christmas), a "ballot strategy" and polling firm (hired by management with Council approval at a taxpayer cost totaling $80,000 as of December) recited some revenue alternatives but said they found the greatest public support for a property parcel tax for libraries...and recommended putting it on the April ballot.
On January 7, 5th district Council candidate Ed Barwick (evidently unimpressed with the consultants' advice) launched what he called the "Great Anti-Tax Walk" with volunteers tromping through the sprawling ELB district, carrying fliers urging residents to tell the Council not to put the measure on the ballot. Mr. Barwick said his volunteers reached about 700 high propensity voters and "found support for libraries but opposition to the proposed tax measure."
Incumbent 5th dist. Councilmember/Vice Mayor Jackie Kell, waging a write-in bid to remain in office under term limits, said at the December 20 Council study session that she supported putting the parcel tax on the April ballot ($35 annually per single residential parcel), contending the Council wasn't raising taxes, simply letting residents say whether they want to do so. Less than a month later at the January 10 Council, Vice Mayor Kell voted with the rest of the Council not to put the measure on the April ballot,
Councilman and Mayoral candidate Frank Colonna said at the Jan. 10 Council meeting that while he values libraries, he believes the Council made a commitment to deal with City Hall's remaining $10 million structural deficit first...and indicated he was concerned about the order of business and favors taking care of public safety needs first [having a Nov. 2006 sales tax increase for police go first]. Councilman Colonna's position was consistent with views he'd announced previously.
At a January 18 Mayoral candidates' forum (after the Council opted not to put the residential property tax measure on the ballot in April), retired Councilman Doug Drummond and former SCE president Bob Foster both indicated they favor putting the library measure on the ballot.
A number of 5th district candidates in addition to Mr. Barwick also said they opposed the proposed April 2006 residential parcel tax (and to our knowledge none has supported it).
ELB resident Michael A. Jackson, seeking the 54th Assembly district seat now held by Betty Karnette (D., LB), testified at the January 10 Council meeting, "Rather than address the structural deficit like you guaranteed that you would, you're going to propose another tax...I would urge you to reconsider this. You've spent money on polling that could have been used for library hours...This [a tax measure] is not the right way to go....You are the ones that are supposed to be making policy, not making an emotional issue to give to the voters..."
At the Jan. 10 Council meeting, LBUSD School Board member John Meyer spoke as a private citizen in favor of putting the library tax on the April 06 ballot. "I would say it's a specious argument to say that if we approve our libraries first, our citizens of Long Beach will not approve a measure for safety...You underestimate us as voters and residents of this proud city. [applause] We will not only approve libraries first if you give us the option, we will heartily step forward and also approve taxes for increased public safety." [applause]
Others testifying included Wrigley community leader Alan Tolkoff, who recommended putting the public safety measure on the ballot first and postponing the library tax until thereafter. He said pollsters (hired by city management with Council approval) shouldn't drive the Council's decision. "To suggest that putting a library initiative ahead of a public safety initiative will not adversely affect the votes for the public safety initiative, regardless of what any polls suggest, just flies in the face of common sense. We need to focus our energies on the November ballot initiative to protect our citizens."
Mary Hinds, a member of the Board of the Library Foundation, said at the invitation of her Councilmember Gabelich she was named to a "library focus group" who goal was to "somehow find sustained, long-term reliable funding for the library because, folks, our libraries are dying...A few weeks after the libraries closed [due to Sept. 05 Council budget cuts], now down to four days, I was at the north branch library returning a book...It was after school and two boys approached me. They appeared to be middle school students and they had looks of panic on their faces [and learning the library was closed] and the boys looked at me and said "What are we going to do?" because it was very obvious they had a project and they needed the libraries for that. That's my question to you all, what are we going to do?"
As previously reported by LBReport.com, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Ass'n has warned property owners about "parcel taxes" of the type proposed by city management.
On February 7 Councilmembers O'Donnell and Reyes Uranga agendized an item for asking the City Manager to "explore funding sources to keep the City of Long Beach Public Libraries open one additional day a week in time for the Fall Academic Year" (which city management has since indicated it will try to do).
"Before we ask our citizens to support a public safety measure in November, we must assure them that we have not abandoned our children and our neighborhoods. Our quality of life cannot be maintained without accessible neighborhood libraries," Councilmembers Reyes Uranga and O'Donnell wrote in February.
Having LB libraries open "in time for the Fall Academic Year" would efffectively coincide with the run-up to a November 2006 election...at which time city management and multiple Councilmembers have indicated they favor asking LB voters to raise the sales tax in LB by a half cent for police and possibly fire services.