San Luis Obispo puts sales tax extension on Nov. 4 ballot

A sign directs visitors to downtown San Luis Obispo.
A sign directs visitors to downtown San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo voters will be asked on Nov. 4 to decide whether to approve an eight-year extension of the city's half-percent sales tax increase first approved by voters in 2006.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 4-1 to put the measure on the ballot.

The existing Measure Y half-percent tax increase expires in March 2015 if not extended. If a majority of voters approves it, the sales tax in San Luis Obispo will remain at 8 percent for eight more years.

The council also approved creating a five-person Revenue Enhancement Oversight Commission to advise the City Council on spending the future tax money.

Councilman Dan Carpenter voted against both. 

“It is unfortunate that those who want a special purpose tax no longer have a voice on this council ... It is foolish to think those people have gone away,” said Carpenter. A special purpose tax, which requires a two-thirds voter approval, must use the tax revenue only on specifically-designated projects. 

As for the oversight commission, Carpenter called the idea “absurd” because it was created out of fear that council members would not be responsible enough to fulfill the community's desire. Carpenter said he would not recognize the commission if it was adopted.

The ballot language states that the tax will be used to protect and maintain essential services and facilities such as open space, bike lanes and sidewalks, and public safety. Other uses include street paving, flood protection, senior programs and other capital improvements.

A handful of people spoke in favor of putting the measure on the ballot.

Dan Rivoire, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition, said extending the tax would help the city continue to meet its goals of fiscal stability and improvement.

"We at the Bicycle Coalition believe it is these goals that drive the community's quality of life," Rivoire said.

The measure also gained the support from the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association.

Leslie Halls, president of the San Luis Obispo Business and Property Owners Association, spoke against extending the tax, saying that it was "regressive" and would harm poor people and those on fixed incomes.

Existing Measure Y revenue, expected to be 12 percent of this year’s $55.5 million general fund budget, will be spent on capital improvements and operations.

Capital improvements such as street paving, storm drain replacement and new bike paths, account for 60 percent of those expenditures.

The remaining 40 percent is spent on staffing. The city pays for 17 full-time positions with Measure Y funds, including two neighborhood services specialists, parks maintenance workers, a full-time fire marshal and two new downtown daytime patrol officers.