City Officials Launch Flurry of Forums to Raise Public Awareness of Sales Tax Proposal on November Ballot

Published : Wednesday, October 3, 2018 | 5:06 AM

Mayor Terry Tornek (left) and City Manager Steve Mermell (right) are scheduled to provide information at a series of at least half a dozen informational discussions of Measures I and J over the next four weeks. File photos.

City officials and activist organizations have begun a series of informational discussions to heighten the public’s awareness of two measures relating to a proposed three-quarter-cent city sales tax increase which appear near the bottom of the November 6 ballot.

In addition to voting for governor and a list of other candidates and issues, Pasadena voters will be asked to vote on Measure I and Measure J.

Measure I would raise the city’s sales tax from 9.5 to 10.25 percent, generating an estimated $21 million annually. Measure J would send one-third of that new income to the Pasadena Unified School District.

Several city officials, including Mayor Terry Tornek, have come out in favor of the measure, calling it vital to preserve services in Pasadena as citizens have come to know them.

While City Attorney Michele Bagneris reminded the Council last month they are prohibited from using City resources to campaign for or against any ballot measure, Councilmembers are allowed to use City resources to host informational forums to help educate the electorate.

More than half a dozen such meetings are being planned. Councilmember Gene Masuda hosted a meeting which included discussions of the measures in his District 4 on Tuesday evening.

Pasadena Unified School Board Member Michelle Richardson Bailey is hosting one at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the gym of the Washington STEAM Magnet Academy, 1505 N. Marengo Ave.

“It’s so important that if people really understand what’s going on here,” she said. “It’s not about you liking the school board or you not liking the school board, or you liking the city or you’re not liking the city. It’s us coming together as a community and making a decision and that the entire community is going to benefit from.”

“So this is just the informational meeting only on measures I and J. The presenters are Steve Mermell, our City Manager, and our School Superintendent, Dr. Brian McDonald. It’s being hosted by the District PTA Council and the District African-American Parent Council,” Bailey said. “Basically, this is an opportunity for our parents in the community to come out and just be informed, so that when they go to the polls to vote, they can make a well-informed decision.”

Other upcoming informational session include one hosted by City Councilman Tyron Hampton on Oct. 11 at a yet-to-be-determined location; one hosted by City Councilman Victor Gordo at 6:30 p.m. on October 17 at the Santa Catalina Library; a 6 p.m. October 18 meeting hosted by Councilman Andy Wilson at the Hotel Constance; a meeting hosted by Councilwoman Margaret McAustin at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Santa Catalina Library; and a meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 hosted by Councilman Steve Madison at an as-yet unconfirmed location.

{Pasadena Now will publish each meeting in our Events section as details of each are confirmed.)

Bailey said she supports both measures.

Pasadena’s current sales tax level is three-quarters of a cent below the state-imposed maximum rate. Proponents of Measure I argue that another government entity, such as Los Angeles County, will eventually impose a tax to meet that maximum if the City does not act first. And significantly less of that tax revenue would end up being spent in Pasadena than if the City collected the tax itself.

“What concerns me is that we know that sooner or later the County is going to come through with a tax measure. And when the County does that, the city stands to benefit far less than what we would benefit if we come together and support this measure for our community,” Bailey said. “Since we are going to get taxed anyway, we might as well keep it for ourselves.”

Another concern of supporters of the sales tax increase is its position on the ballot. In a state-mandated effort to boost voter turnout, the City recently moved its municipal elections to coincide with state elections.

Local ordinances, such as measures I and J, end up being pushed to the bottom of the crowded ballot. This has drawn worries from proponents that voters may not complete their ballots to the end, thus skipping the sales tax measure.

The two measures have also drawn grudging support as well as outright opposition.

Long-time Pasadena businessman and former Pasadena Chamber of Commerce president Ishmael Trone said he favors Measure I, but has reservations.

“I’m for the increase, only because of the fear that the County will do a sales tax increase in the very near future anyway,” he said.

“I would not like to see the County get their hands on it,” Trone said. “If it wasn’t for that situation, I would be 100 percent against it.”

The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce has come out against the sales tax increase proposal. Chamber CEO Paul Little said he questions the appropriateness of the numerous meeting being held by City officials on the measures.

“The City Attorney warned the council members about campaigning on city time using city resources,” he said. “I would hope the content of these meetings and presentations have been vetted by Ms. Bagneris and her office. It is a very fine line they need to walk here to avoid illegal activity.”

Little added that the Chamber doesn’t have any plans for a forum of its own.

“We do not plan opposition informational gatherings, but will certainly be happy to attend any we are invited to,” he said.