By Jeong Park
Daily Press Intern
The Santa Monica City Council at its July 12 meeting voted to place a tax increase initiative on the November ballot. The council also approved a concept design for modernization of City Yards and finalized a revision of the ethics initiative that will be placed on the ballot.
The City Council voted 5-0 to place on this year’s election an ordinance that would increase the local transactions and use tax to 1 percent, and effectively increase the sales tax to 10 percent.
The city said increasing the tax will help fill the revenue gap left by the loss of state redevelopment funds, which provided over $15 million annually to support affordable housing.
As of April, eight cities in California had a 10-percent sales tax, according to a staff report by the City of Santa Monica.
An advisory question will also be placed on the ballot, asking voters whether they support splitting the revenue between local public schools and the development of affordable housing.
Councilmember Gleam Davis said in the past, the city has followed the result of the advisory question.
Some public commenters questioned the need for such an increase.
“To potentially use funds to support public housing is ludicrous … (The city) has money,” Santa Monica resident Andrea McPherson said.
The City Council approved the modified language of the Oaks Initiative to be placed on the November ballot, but only after it struck down the “look-back” provision.
The Oaks Initiative, which the city adopted in 2000, has sought to prevent city officials from receiving benefits in exchange for awarding contracts to individuals and entities.
After local government transparency advocates criticized the city for failing to enforce the initiative, the council hired attorney John Hueston to make recommendations for a revision of the initiative to be placed on the ballot.
The “look-back” provision would have specified that the Oaks Initiative be applied when an applicant or bidder for any City contract over $25,000 began contract negotiations or discussions with the City or submitted their applications, whichever came earlier. Without the provision, the initiative would only be applied after officials have voted to approve such applications.
Some council members criticized the provision for potentially discouraging lower-income residents who can’t self-fund their campaigns from running for the council.
“There is a potential for people with no intent to do wrong to get caught by the look-back provision,” Davis said. “Once somebody sues you (for the violation), you have to spend money to defend … This (provision) is going to be a real deterrent.”
Although he said he supported the “look-back” provision, Mayor Tony Vazquez said he was skeptical that a person could be “bought out” for $340, which is a maximum amount of donation a person can give to the candidates in Santa Monica.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich defended the provision, saying it is easy to follow and that the provision would only start when a bidder submitted their applications to the city.
“There isn’t a ‘gotcha’ here,” Himmelrich said. “When you are running for office, you should know who is giving you money.”
Himmelrich also pointed out that the officials could return those benefits within 10 days of their receipts.
The city attorney will return to the council’s next meeting on July 26 to present final ballot language for the initiative.
The council voted 5-0 to approve the feasibility analysis and concept design for Phase A of the City Yards modernization project.
Phase A is estimated to cost the city $114 million. In this phase, the city will build administration, fleet maintenance and traffic operations buildings as well as storage space, facilities maintenance shops and a community room for an educational summer camp Rosie’s Girls. New parking will also be created.
The city said the project is necessary to update many buildings in the City Yards that have exceeded their expected service life. The City Yards, a 14.7-acre site owned by the city and located at 2500 Michigan Ave., was created in the 1940s to serve various functions for the city such as training firefighters and handling recycling.
Scott Wolf, whose firm Miller Hull Partnership worked with Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company to develop the concept design, said a goal of the project was to make the City Yards more visible to the public and to improve how the site operates.
Much of the council’s discussion and the public comments centered around the effect of the project on the Mountain View Mobile Home Park, located yards from the City Yards site. Although Phase A has little effect on the park, the Phase C may include construction of an access road to the City Yards close to Mountain View.
“The City Yards (would be) 15 feet away from people who live in a home that has a paper-thin wall,” said Belinda Van Sickle, president of the Mountain View Residents Association.
City Manager Rick Cole stressed that concerns from the community will be incorporated when the city is planning next phases of the project.