Long Beach City Hall.

Long Beach will consider asking voters in March 2020 to permanently extend the city’s Measure A sales tax to fund continued infrastructure needs, public safety jobs and the reopening of Community Hospital, officials said Monday.

Passed by voters in 2016, Measure A raised the city’s sales tax by one percent until the year 2022; it then drops to half a percent before ending in 2027.

The measure, one of the largest infrastructure investments in the city’s history, is expected to generate nearly half a billion dollars over 10 years.

Mayor Robert Garcia on Monday said Measure A has been a “game-changer” in funding critical infrastructure needs, but the city must consider a long-term investment if it wants to maintain its number of public safety positions and tackle a $1.2 billion backlog of deferred repairs, ongoing maintenance and replacement of outdated technology.

“Measure A has had a real visual impact that people are feeling across the city,” Garcia said. “And to think that we could take that and rebuild our entire city—not just think about 10 years, but think about the next 20 or 30 years—to me, that’s an exciting opportunity for voters to consider.”

Under the new proposal, Measure A would permanently extend the 1% sales tax increase, except for a five-year period from 2023 to 2027 when the tax would drop to .75% to adjust for a county tax.

The change would mean the city’s sales tax would remain at the state cap of 10.25%. If the measure were to fail, Garcia said the city’s sales tax will likely remain at the state cap because of other proposed county ballot measures that could raise Long Beach’s sales tax. For example, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is considering a one-half cent sales tax measure next year to pay for clean-air projects.

“We have to decide if we want the money to stay here in Long Beach,” he said. “If we don’t do this now that gap will be filled by somebody else and those dollars will be sent to the AQMD or another agency.”

The plan would also designate some Measure A funds to help reopen East Long Beach’s Community Hospital, which shuttered last summer due to seismic compliance issues, closing the area’s only emergency room. Currently, the funds can only be used for public safety and infrastructure. Under the Community Hospital deal with operator Molina, Wu, Network, the city would pay up to $25 million over the next 15 years to help retrofit the 94-year-old facility.

Garcia noted that reopening Community Hospital is vital for pubic safety as emergency response times have jumped by 10% since the closure. Ambulances are now traveling further across the city.

Garcia said the city was “cautious” when it initially proposed Measure A in 2016 as a 10-year plan, noting that voters had shot down previous tax increases.

The measure, which passed by more than 60%, generated controversy as it pushed Long Beach’s sales tax to one of the highest in the state.

But dozens of other cities, like Glendale, Santa Monica, Compton and Hawthorne, have since followed suit with their own increases. And more are expected in 2020.

“In 2020 it will be hard to find a city without a ballot measure doing sales tax,” the mayor said. “It will be up and down the state of California.”

Garcia said he has since been encouraged by an April poll of 600 residents that found 74% would support a proposed sales tax extension to maintain funding for public safety and other services.

Under state law, the city would have to declare a fiscal emergency in order to put the measure before voters so quickly. While Long Beach is projecting a $5 million to $12 million shortfall for 2021, Garcia said the city for now is in good fiscal shape, but the loss in response times due to Community Hospital’s closure and critical infrastructure needs can been considered an emergency. The City Council in its regular meeting July 2 will consider asking the city attorney to draft an ordinance to put the measure on the March ballot.

The proposal is expected to come back to the council for final approval in mid-July. The city has far spent more than $88 million of Measure A funds on projects including street and sidewalk repairs and improvements to parks and facilities.

Officials said the funding has allowed Long Beach to add 41 new public safety positions and maintain 108 current positions that otherwise would have been cut.