Goleta City Manager Dan Singer pitched a public education campaign to the City Council on Tuesday afternoon, but the council members decided to wait for opinion poll results before they commit money to a public relations firm.
Singer said the city could use the momentum of election season to get voters informed and riled up about the revenue neutrality agreement with Santa Barbara County.
“It’s something we’ve been living with, and living within,” he said, adding that getting voters involved is the only way to pressure the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors back to the negotiating table.
Efforts by the city staff and council clearly aren’t enough, since there have been no changes to the agreement since the city incorporated in 2002, Singer said.
Some of the conditions expired after 10 years, but the city is stuck paying half its property taxes to the county indefinitely.
A 600-household phone survey is already under way to see how much Goleta Valley residents know about the revenue neutrality agreement. Councilwoman Paula Perotte wanted to wait for that survey’s results before entering a $60,000 contract with a public relations firm and the others agreed.
Goleta resident Barbara Massey and former mayor Margaret Connell both told the council to skip the contract, saying the county will never renegotiate.
Massey said the timing is “politically motivated” and she doubts Goleta residents will never be enraged and then storm the County Administration Building with torches. It’s a waste of money since the county will never budge, she argued.
Connell, a member of the city's first City Council, said the campaign is “ill-timed to say the least” what with the Second District county supervisor race in full swing. Supervisor Janet Wolf is running for re-election against Goleta Councilman Roger Aceves.
The agreement will be a campaign issue, without doubt, and the city should ask itself whether it wants to put $60,000 into an effort that could impact the election, she said.
Goleta should avoid “even the appearance of impropriety,” she said.
Aceves thanked her for coming, but didn’t mince words.
“This council’s had to live with many agreements your council made when the city incorporated,” he said.
Goleta paid $87 million under the agreement so far, which will be $92 million after the 2014-15 year, he said.
“You say it’s ill-timed, but it’s been on my bucket list and Michael Bennett’s bucket list since we first ran for council (in 2006),” he said. “This has nothing to do with the fact I’m running against Janet Wolf. I’ve been talking about this for seven years.”
Councilman Jim Farr said the campaign needs to start right away and inform voters that the city is “being taken advantage of.”
He believes a community coalition can point out injustices while the city can only provide information. He’s already meeting with people to get that started, he said.
“This thing needs to go away,” he said. “It’s just not right.”
The survey results and campaign ideas will be presented to the revenue neutrality agreement subcommittee — Bennett and Farr — and to the full council in February.