At Chula Vista City Hall in early December, this correspondent attended a special budget hearing on ways the city could slash $4 million from this fiscal year’s budget and $20 million from the budgets of the following five years. The crowd was so large, hundreds of residents were forced to wait outside the hearing.
On one end of the plaza, just outside of the entrance, a group wearing green T-shirts held signs above their heads, protesting the proposed closure of the Chula Vista Nature Center. A dozen feet away, parents of young children held signs pleading for after-school programs to stay intact. Others chanted to keep their libraries and recreation centers open.
To avoid more citywide budget cuts, last month the Chula Vista City Council agreed to send the issue to the voters in the form of a mail-in ballot. If passed, the measure will raise the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent for the next ten years, earning the city an extra $20 million in revenue each year, just enough to keep most of the public services that residents fought so hard for.
But as the May 5 deadline for the mail-in ballots approaches, opposition to the increase is mounting. A recent website, cleanupchulavistacityhall.com was launched by groups including the Chula Vista Taxpayers Association, Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association, and others. The website claims the sales-tax increase is “irresponsible, regressive, discriminatory, and hurts businesses and local economy” and includes no assurances how the money will be spent.
At a February 17 city council meeting, residents who initially supported Proposition A were skeptical of the way the city council handled the sales-tax initiative.
Patricia Aguilar, president of community activist group Crossroads II, spoke to the city council about their concerns. “There is a lack of trust in this community that you will do the right thing with this money and spend it responsibly.”
To address that lack of trust, Aguilar asked the council to put a proposition on the 2010 ballot that provides for revisiting the sales-tax increase in five years’ time if Proposition A is passed this May.
“That will give you five years to build trust with the community that you’ve spent that money responsibly.”
Councilmember Steve Castaneda responded. “I wanted to mention that Councilmember [Rudy] Ramirez and I had a meeting a couple of days ago with members of the public. There seems to be this recurring theme that maybe ten years is too long and we want to make sure that the money is spent the way it is supposed to be spent.”
Castaneda asked the city attorney to prepare a resolution to place a measure on the general election in 2010 to give the voters an opportunity to repeal the tax. That resolution is expected by next council meeting.