SLO chamber, Downtown Association voice support for sales tax extension

The City Council’s effort to renew San Luis Obispo’s half-percent sales tax is gaining support from influential business groups.

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association have both thrown their support behind the tax measure.

The ballot measure would seek to extend a half-percent sales tax that city voters approved in 2006 with Measure Y. That tax is due to expire next March. If voters approve an extension, the sales tax in San Luis Obispo would remain at 8 percent for eight more years.

The business support comes as the council inches closer to gaining the fourth vote needed to put the measure on the ballot.

In the past, council members Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter have said they would not support putting a general purpose tax before voters.

However, on Tuesday, Smith said she would be willing to consider it if a seven-member oversight committee was created to provide recommendations on spending the money.

The committee that Smith envisions would have minimal staff involvement and review expenditures before City Council approval.

Smith said Wednesday that her vote in support of the measure will be contingent on the oversight committee being structured the way she has proposed.

“I am not a yes person yet, but I would like to be,” said Smith. “I want an oversight committee with teeth in it — the structure of it is key.”

The majority of the council voiced support for some type of a citizen oversight committee and for preparing an annual report regarding how the funds were used.

Carpenter, who voiced concern Tuesday that the city has not included language in the ballot committing to addressing the city’s pension liabilities or limiting staff salaries, remains opposed.

The council may proceed with putting the measure on the ballot regardless of the fourth vote. The council has discussed invoking the city’s charter status as a way to use only three votes to do so.

Typically, cities abide by state government code that requires a two-thirds vote of the council (a 4-1 vote) to put a revenue-enhancing measure on the ballot.

A 2001 ruling by a California appellate court involving the city of San Leandro, however, determined the two-thirds vote requirement does not apply to charter cities.

San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins contends that putting a general tax measure on the ballot without a two-thirds vote is not legal.

The chamber’s endorsement of renewing the tax measure comes with several caveats: the formation of a citizens oversight committee; adoption of a long-term commitment by the council to address personnel costs; inclusion of pension obligations; and more transparency in the city’s management of the additional tax money.

“When we look back eight years from now, we want to see that the general tax revenue was devoted to important investments in capital improvements, exceptional delivery of services, clean and safe neighborhoods, the acquisition of open space, and a strong local economy that supports jobs and housing,” the chamber wrote in a letter signed by key chamber leaders.

Dominic Tartaglia, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, reiterated the need for an oversight committee and a city commitment to reducing pension obligations and staffing costs.

The council will discuss the ballot measure again May 20.