Flanked by downtown business owners as well as officials from the fire and police departments, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider announced Tuesday morning that she is pushing her ballot initiatives, initially slated to go before voters this fall, to next year.
Schneider unveiled the multiple-part plan, dubbed “Invest in Santa Barbara 2012,” in February that would have put a pension reform item and a half-cent sales tax on the city’s November ballot. The ballot initiatives also would have included an advisory measure to allow the sales tax to be split between the city and the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
That announcement rankled many in the education community, who were concerned about their own districtwide measures going forward this year, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown’s education measures in November.
But as Schneider announced the changes Tuesday, she seemed to have garnered the support from several groups she initially seemed to have alienated with her February announcement, including those in the education community. Santa Barbara school board members Kate Parker, Ed Heron and Susan Deacon were all present, as well as Hope School District Superintendent Dan Koopmans and SBCC Trustees Marty Blum and Peter Haslund.
Schneider said she has had conversations with many people in the education community since the measures were revealed.
“They said, ‘We also have issues with funding, can we be part of the conversation?’” she told the media.
The need for budget reform has remained the same since her first announcement, she said, but the method has changed. With the entire proposal moving to the November 2013 ballot, it will be a regular City Council election, and Schneider said the move was the result of a number of factors, including what was going on at the state level.
“This is the way we can continue our conversation in Santa Barbara without getting in the middle of something else that’s going on statewide on some very important issues,” she said.
Earlier this year, Schneider put forward another measure that would have asked downtown businesses to pay a tax if they closed after 11 p.m. to help pay for the cost of law enforcement. This raised some concern among downtown business owners, but representatives of multiple businesses were present Tuesday, including the Wildcat Lounge, Blue Agave, Velvet Jones, EOS and Tonic.
Schneider said that measure will now apply citywide, instead of only for downtown operations. After talking with many local business owners, she said she thinks what is going forward now is actually a better alternative.
The city’s business tax rates are “unusual” in the statewide lens, she said. The city taxes stores based on the amount of their gross sales and the type of store, but does not require business to report the sale of alcoholic beverages.
“That means the City of Santa Barbara is basically subsidizing the sale of alcohol,” she said. “Other cities don’t do this.”
The new initiative would allow the city to simply cross that line out, and Schneider cited Lower Milpas Street as an example. Hamburger restaurant The Habit pays taxes on its gross sales, while up the street are liquor stores, and their business license fees have nothing to do with the alcohol they sell.
“That’s not fair, it should be rectified and it puts everyone on an equal playing field,” Schneider said.
Representatives from Firefighters for Better Government and the Police Officers Association were also there. When they were asked what their presence at the press conference meant, Fire’s Tony Pighetti didn’t divulge much.
“We’re here to stand in support with the mayor,” he told the media. “We’re willing to work together to get through this.”
Schneider was also asked if it was even legal to disburse funds garnered in the city to other districts.
“That’s going to be part of the conversation we have,” she said.
She added that she doesn’t want to dictate how those monies would be spent by the school districts, but that she doesn’t have the exact details just yet.
What’s being asked of the voters is a general fund tax to go into City of Santa Barbara coffers, Schneider said, and the council has full authority to allocate those funds as they see fit.
“I don’t think there’s a legal concern,” she said.
Schneider has until August to turn in the signatures gathered for her initial ballot measures, but if she sees that her new plans are gaining momentum, she won’t submit them.
Schneider has been quiet on how many signatures she’s been able to gather, but that she believes the effort had the 15 percent of city residents needed for the special election in November. For next year, she’ll need signatures only from 10 percent of the population.
Because they have more time with the pushback to next November, they held off on their verification process for the signatures, but “we believe we have what we need,” she said.