San Luis Obispo may invoke charter city status for Measure Y

acornejo@thetribunenews.comApril 14, 2014 

The San Luis Obispo City Council may invoke its status as a charter city to put a measure on the ballot to renew its half-percent sales tax increase without a two-thirds council vote.

Typically, cities abide by state government code which states that a two-thirds vote is needed to put a revenue-enhancing measure on the ballot.

In San Luis Obispo, that would mean four of the five council members. In the past, the city has abided by the state elections code.

At an April 2 council meeting, however, it became clear that the council is divided 3-2 about putting such a general-purpose tax increase on the ballot.

That’s why the council may look at a 2001 ruling by the California Court of Appeal involving the city of San Leandro that determined the two-thirds vote requirement does not apply to charter cities.

Mayor Jan Marx, who is in favor of putting the measure on the November ballot, will likely bring the option up at tonight’s council meeting to put it on the May 6 agenda for further discussion.

“Voters at least need to have the chance to decide,” Marx said. “To block that possibility to me really isn’t fair to the voters. I think the council really needs to take the responsibility for allowing the people’s voice to be heard.”

City Attorney Christine Dietrick, who was asked by Marx to look into the requirements, sent details outlining the Traders Sports, Inc. v. City of San Leandro case to the City Council last week.

Dietrick said that it is her impression that the council could simply put the measure on the ballot with only three votes. However, a resolution could be adopted to formalize the process, she said.

In the San Leandro case, Traders Sports challenged the charter city’s decision to put a three-percent gross receipts tax on businesses that sell concealable firearms and ammunition for concealable firearms on the ballot with less than a two-thirds majority vote.

The California Court of Appeal ruling states that charter cities have a “home rule” policy that allows local government authority over election conduct, including putting revenue measures on the ballot.

Included in the ruling is a summary of what rules charter cities can make to supersede state ordinances in four areas: conducting municipal elections, procedures enacting municipal ordnances, levying of municipal taxes and exercising initiative power.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith, who has said she will only support special purpose tax dedicated to capital improvements, said she would have voted against a general purpose tax increase renewal, regardless.

“I really believe in the need for a special purpose tax,” Smith said.

Councilman Dan Carpenter, who does not support renewing Measure Y, said he is concerned that only requiring three votes will set a precedent that will eliminate the need for future council discussion.

“Any discussion that we would have had in July to get all five of us on the same page is gone out the door,” Carpenter said. “It eliminates any compromise and deliberation by council and is taking away from the important discussion that should happen.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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