“It’s been a generation since Long Beach made the decision to invest in itself,” said Mayor Robert Garcia last night of Measure A, which passed with nearly 60 percent approval from voters. The 10-year sunsetting tax is estimated to generate about $48 million annually for a city that has been strapped for cash, helping it deal with mounting infrastructure costs. Video by Jason Ruiz. Read more: http://lbpo.st/22PUGhH
Posted by Long Beach Post on Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Mayor Robert Garcia speaks to a crowd of supporters inside Hotel Maya after the initial results showed a 20 point lead for Measure A Tuesday night. Video by Jason Ruiz.
In an historic move Tuesday night, Long Beach voters stuffed the ballot boxes with a resounding “yes” to the question over whether they trusted their local government with a sales-tax increase that will generate much needed revenue to repair the city’s infrastructure and restock its public safety agencies.
Measure A, the 10-year sunsetting tax, passed with nearly 60 percent approval from voters, leaving little suspense after the initial votes rolled in.
Mayor Robert Garcia walked into a crowded room of supporters at Hotel Maya last night where the vote-by mail ballots had already been displayed on the a projector screen set up just to the left of a stage. That projector would later serve as the first stop of his victory laps.
Applause rang out, hands were shook and supporters were embraced with the mayor’s two arms. Garcia had just overseen the first successful voter approved tax increase in they city in over 40 years and it was time to celebrate.
“Thank God this passed,” Garcia said, relieved and smiling. “Long Beach tonight voted to invest in itself. Long Beach tonight voted and took a step forward and turned the page I believe.”
The tax, which will raise the city’s current rate from nine to 10 percent for the first six years and reduce to 9.5 percent for the last four before “sunsetting” at the end of a decade is estimated to generate about $48 million annually for a city that has been strapped for cash to deal with its mounting infrastructure costs. Measure B, a “rainy day fund” that will take one percent of all revenue generated from Measure A also passed, garnering over 57 percent of the vote.
The tax will not be applied to necessities like groceries or medicine and the city has pledged to spend that money on paving roads, alleys and improving public spaces while also replenishing its depleted police and fire departments.
The positions had been laid out since the beginning of the year when Garcia and the city council made public their intent to pursue a sales tax measure. Almost instantaneously a small, but boisterous group of dissenters formed to oppose the measures at every turn.
Franklin Sims, who up until a few weeks ago was the only member of the “Long Beach Rebellion”, was a prominent member of that opposition. Earlier in the night, across town at a much more modest party, Sims helped set up vegetable platters inside Joe Jost’s, where a small gathering of the Rebellion and other residents opposed to the measures awaited the first poll results.
For months, Sims had pushed the anti-A agenda online through video and tweets. He also spoke before city council, denouncing the measure as regressive and unjust and made public appearances dressed as Charlie Chaplin in an attempt to “break the silence” on Measure A.
However, Sims could see the writing on the wall and knew that the effort had started too late and raised too little money—approximately $12,000 by his count—to battle the hundreds of thousands raised for the mayor’s war-chest.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a seasoned politician as much as he is a seasoned campaigner,” Sims said. “He’s been campaigning even before he was a politician and he’s damn good.”
The David and Goliath battle that Franklin saw play out won’t be measured in wins and losses; instead, it will be framed by how many votes by which they lost. Sims admitted that most of the people in the billiards room at Jost’s were just proud that someone stood up and fought. Now, he said, the battle would shift not to denying the measure outright and to honing in on accountability, especially in the wake of a city audit that showed the city had been bilked by contractors carrying out infrastructure improvements.
“What companies are going to get the contracts? Are they going to stay within budget?” Sims asked. “That’s what has to be watched and I don’t trust an oversight committee to do it.”
Trust played a central figure in the campaign to get the measures passed, and by the end of the night, public trust had tipped the scales in favor of the tax increase. Don Haselroth, a Fifth District resident, said he viewed the measures as a carrot on a stick that was dangled in front of residents who for years had pleaded for road and alley repairs.
While he agreed that there is a need for road repairs and investing in the city, he said it that the feeling in his neighborhood was that too many taxpayer dollars were being wasted downtown instead of in the neighborhoods of those paying those taxes. He offered a two-word summary to the neighborhood’s sentiment toward proposed tax hikes: “Hell no.”
“It takes an act of Congress to get our trees trimmed. Any infrastructure that we need to have done it’s like fighting,” Haselroth said. “I think there’s a lot of resentment with the citizens that we’re not getting our money’s worth, period.”
With the passage of the measures, the ball is now in the court of the elected officials who must keep their word to the public to embolden the community for continued trust. In her remarks before introducing Garcia to the group of supporters last night, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal remarked on the gravity of the voters’ decision to back the measures.
“It is the first time in 40 years that the public has trusted us, has looked at the data that we have shown, looked at the maps that we’ve been able to provide about the dire need on infrastructure throughout the city and said ‘yes, we see it too, and here’s what we want to do.’”
And there certainly is a lot to do.
An estimated $2.8 billion in infrastructure spending was projected over the next 10 years, and revenue that could be generated by Measure A could certainly put a big dent in that previously projected tab. Lowenthal categorized the vote as a “generational legacy” that will dramatically change the course of the city, something that decades from now will make supporters of the measure proud to have helped pass it.
The spotlight will now shift to the mayor’s appointees to the citizen’s advisory council, a safeguard installed by the city council to help ensure that funds go to where they were promised. Trust will undoubtedly remain a focus as these funds begin to be disbursed and the mayor seemed ready to deliver on his word.
“We’re going to be incredibly good stewards of this responsibility that the voters have given us,” Garcia said. “We are going to launch the largest public works program in 40 or 50 years. This is so exciting.”
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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