Council Votes “No” on Giving Voters Chance to Close Budget Shortfall, Improve Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

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Last night, by a 4-3 vote, the City Council voted against placing a measure on the fall ballot that would have generated $7 million annually by increasing the tax on privately owned parking lots. The proposed 8% increase would have been the first increase on the city’s parking tax since 1995. The funds would have gone to the general fund, but the expectation is that it would have been used to backfill cuts made to next year’s budget to fund four new police officers. The cuts included cuts to traffic safety programs and infrastructure repair.

The motion, authored by Councilmember Jesse Zwick was also supported by Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Gleam Davis. It was defeated by votes from Mayor Phil Brock, Vice Mayor Lana Negrete and Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra.

Support was strong in public comments, as Zwick noted that much of the tax would fall on the shoulders of non-residents and spoke of the need to fund basic maintenance. Santa Monica Spoke and the Santa Monica Safe Streets Alliance sent an action alert urging people to write in, or attend the meeting, to support the proposal.

“This measure could have a significant and positive impact on improving street safety,” wrote Spoke in their action alert. “Let the Santa Monica City Council know that a healthier and more equitable future requires us to act today with creative solutions like this ballot measure to increase the parking facility tax by 8% “

Polling done by the city showed the motion had a good chance to pass. Only 50% of voters needed to support the measure, and polling showed the measure would start with about 50% approval. However, as voters learned that the publicly owned lots, including those near the beach and in the downtown were not impacted, the number of supporters rose.

Councilmembers Christine Parra and Lana Negrete spoke against the proposal because of the increased cost it would have for parking at medical facilities. To recoup the cost of the tax, the maximum cost for parking would increase by $1.40 from just over $23 up to almost $25. Negrete also worried that by increasing parking at these lots that drivers would choose to park at meters that are supposed to be used by local businesses.

Councilmember de la Torre explained his “no” vote because he worried that by placing this measure on the ballot that it would hurt the chances of a business license reform measure passing during the fall election.

“While I support safer streets and safe routes to school; public safety remains the top priority in this city,” explained Brock. “We’ll have to try another method later on.”

Recognizing the support for the proposal, the opponents on the dais offered a pair of alternatives. The first was a parcel tax ballot measure proposal offered by Brock, but he withdrew it before public comment even began. The other was that Zwick’s proposal be studied, but that it could return for a vote on another day. Because of the schedule of Council meetings, and the timeline to get measures on the ballot; the Council would have to hold a separate “special” meeting to make the measure stick.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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