Friday, March 23 , 2018, 12:09 pm | Fair 59º


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Schneider Unveils Santa Barbara Ballot Initiatives Calling for Pension Reform, Sales Tax

The mayor outlines a package of four proposals she hopes to put before the city's voters in November

In a hastily called news conference on Tuesday, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider unveiled an ambitious new plan that would put four items, including pension reform and a half-cent sales tax, on the city’s November ballot.

Schneider addressed about a dozen reporters at Studio 8, the office of videographer Brent Sumner on De la Guerra Street, instead of at City Hall.

“This is not something coming from the city machine,” she said of her plan, adding that the effort is something she has been thinking about for the past nine months, and seriously working on for the past two.

Within the next two weeks, she said, Santa Barbara residents will start to see people gathering signatures for the package of initiatives.

“I want to know what the voters think,” Schneider said. “They may sign to put this on the ballot or not.”

The first proposal Schneider outlined Tuesday would require a handful of nightclubs and bars downtown to pay a new business license fee. She argued that those businesses consume an inordinate amount of police resources when they close in the early hours of the morning. The fee would be based on a quarter-cent of all gross revenues.

For example, Schneider said, a $3 beer would cost the business less than a penny in license fees, and the total revenue to the city would amount to $250,000 per year.

“If you go downtown any weekend, when the bars and the nightclubs close around 2 a.m., a vast majority of our patrol division is keeping the peace,” she said. “Everyone in the city pays for additional services there. ... All I’m asking is that those establishments that are making money and doing their business should pay a fair share towards the extra service.”

Businesses that close at 11 p.m. or earlier wouldn’t be affected, she said, leaving only a handful of businesses in the downtown core that would have to pay the new fee. The entertainment district surrounding the businesses would span from Sola Street to the north, Carbrillo Boulevard to the south, Chapala Street to the west and Santa Barbara Street to the east.

The second item focused on pension reform for city employees.

“All I’m asking is that the employees pay their fair share, not the entire amount,” she said.

Depending on the bargaining unit, employees typically pay 8 or 9 percent of their total paycheck, and Schneider said she would like to see all employees pay that amount. Members of SEIU Local 620, which represents the largest portion of city workers, pay about 8 percent now,

Police and fire employees are currently required to put aside only 3 percent. If contributions were increased, Schneider said, the city could see as much as $2.5 million in savings every year. The initiative wouldn’t affect current contracts or threaten the collective bargaining process.

“It’s a big deal,” she said “I think there are going to be some reactions.”

Schneider said later, however, that voters may decide police and fire should pay their “fair share” toward their retirement.

A third initiative, which would pass only if the pension reform measure also is approved, calls for a half-cent sales tax. The tax rate would be raised to 8.25 percent and would garner up to $10 million annually.

A fourth advisory measure that voters would have to approve would split that money evenly between the City of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The district stands to lose $5 million to $6 million more in funding if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax measures don’t go through, and the city lost redevelopment funds earlier this year, and with it millions of dollars a year for infrastructure projects.

“To do all the things that people want and expect, you’ve got to find a way to pay for it that’s fair and equitable,” Schneider said.

She also unveiled a chart that showed multiple cities similar to Santa Barbara that would still pay higher sales tax rates, even with an increase. Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and Manhattan Beach were all on the list with higher rates.

Schneider stressed that it’s important for the public to view the initiatives as a package.

“You can’t just vote for the pension reform without the sales tax measure,” and vice versa, she said. “Both have to pass, so everyone is participating. ... People are going to like some things and they’re going to dislike some things,” she said. “If we try to pick it apart, nothing gets done.”

However, the business license fee initiative would stand on its own. All of the initiatives would need a simple majority vote to pass.

With Gov. Brown asking voters to approve temporary increases in the state sales tax and income tax for residents earning more than $250,000, November’s ballot may be a crowded one.

Schneider said that so far, the initiatives presented Tuesday are the only local initiatives planned for the November ballot, and that by putting the initiatives on the ballot then, the school district’s parcel tax effort in June won’t be hindered.

Schneider, who has begun fundraising for signature gathering, said she chose this approach, of going straight to voters, because she wasn’t sure she could get the unanimous vote needed from the City Council.

“This is an unconventional way of doing this,” she said. “I am asking the voters to tell me if they’d like to see this on the November ballot.”

She said she alerted the City Council, the city attorney and the city administrator during the past couple days.

“I think they’re all letting it sink in, just like everyone else,” she said.

Click here for more information about Schneider’s proposals.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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