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Local News

Schneider Moving Ahead with Gathering Signatures for Proposed Ballot Initiatives

The mayor puts one of the proposals on the back burner to avoid conflict with the Santa Barbara school district's parcel tax measure on June's ballot

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider will begin gathering signatures this week for three of her four proposed November ballot initiatives in the wake of the plan’s first public push-back.

She has proposed a pension reform city charter amendment, an entertainment district business license fee, a half-cent sales tax and appropriating half of the tax revenue to local schools.

But Schneider’s independent move to put the items before voters left many groups out of the planning process, including past political supporters such as city labor groups and the Democratic Central Committee.

At last week’s monthly meeting, the Democratic Central Committee asked Schneider to stop her petitions until there’s more of a community discussion, saying they have “serious reservations,” chair Daraka Larimore-Hall said in a press release. It’s not a final position on the measures, but the group wants to “work on proposed changes to the ballot measures that would meet the goals laid out by the mayor, taking into account the concerns of all affected parties.”

Schneider said she has been meeting with stakeholders since she announced the initiatives on Feb. 7, and will continue to do so.

“I’m still moving forward with collecting signatures unless and until I hear some reason to substantially change it,” the mayor said. “There’s no reason to stop it at this point.”

Schneider said she decided to go directly to voters because “it’s time to create an option for people to consider instead of having debate and nothing happens. The alternative is the status quo, which means significant funding needs and a system that needs some form of cost control with pensions, and the only way to ask on the revenue side is to go to voters anyway.”

She was also unsure whether she could get the unanimous vote needed from the City Council. Fellow council members haven’t discussed the issue publicly since the announcement, except Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, who called the initiatives “smart and courageous” in an op/ed published in Noozhawk.

The initiatives are a package of proposals — the sales tax depends on the pension reform initiative passing — and they have now gone through the City Attorney and City Clerk’s offices. The approved titles and summaries will be on the petitions, which require 15 percent of registered voters to sign for each measure to get on the November ballot.

Schneider said she will use volunteers and will raise funds to hire paid signature gatherers.

The fourth proposal — an advisory measure that would split the sales tax revenue evenly between the city and the Santa Barbara Unified School District — is notably missing from her website and petition efforts. It was not well-received by the education community since SBUSD has a parcel tax measure on the June ballot, and Schneider has decided not to even bring up the advisory measure until after the June election.

“Right now, the most important thing anyone can do is pass the parcel tax in June,” she said. “I want it to be absolutely clear: I don’t want to create any kind of question of what should happen in June versus November.”

As an advisory measure, it needs only the City Council’s approval to qualify for the ballot, so signature-gathering won’t be necessary.

The Santa Barbara Education Foundation supports the mayor’s new position, since the messaging and timing of the parcel tax campaign is critical, according to board member Lynn Rodriguez.

Measures W and X would replace 2008’s parcel tax, which has been funding math, science, music and arts programs at elementary and secondary schools and expires next year. A poll of voters by Godbe Research showed more than 70 percent support for the measures, which would increase the amount to $54 per parcel and bring in $15 million over four years.

The campaign needs to distinguish this measure from other tax measures aimed at funding schools, which is the main reason the measure is scheduled for June instead of November.

“We’re concerned there’s a lot planned for the November ballot … so we’re really trying to get people to focus on the problem right now, not the impact of any alternative measure out there,” Rodriguez said. “If other ones come along in the future and raise money for schools, great, but we want to make sure people don’t say they’ll wait for November and vote for that.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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