City Council Hesitates on Plan to Boost Sales Tax

After discussion at its public meeting Tuesday night, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council appeared unlikely to place on the March 2020 ballot a sales tax measure that was projected to raise approximately $2.5 million a year for the city.
The city has been considering asking voters to approve a .75-cent sales tax increase but is having second thoughts because a property tax measure planned by the La Cañada Unified School District also is expected to be on the March ballot.
“I think my biggest concern would be the impact to the school parcel tax” that the LCUSD wants to renew, said Mayor Leonard Pieroni. “The schools are a really important part of our community here and I wouldn’t want to interfere with that — although we would figure out a way to spend $2½ million and it would be great to have that every year.”
A member of a subcommittee will reach out to a member of the LCUSD Governing Board to discuss whether the latter is committed to putting the parcel tax renewal to a vote in March. Depending on whether and when that is confirmed, the city’s parcel tax will not be brought back as an immediate future agenda item, City Manager Mark Alexander said after the meeting.
“Basically, if there isn’t really any opportunity that the school district will even consider potentially moving their date, then we’re not going to go forward at this point in time,” Alexander said after the meeting. “We’re not closed to considering this in the future.”
Residents now pay 9.5% in sales taxes, while the maximum sales tax rate in Los Angeles County is capped by state law at 10.25%.
Governing board members have until Dec. 6 to make a final decision if they want to approve language for a parcel tax measure on the March ballot.
The breakdown of the current sales tax for LCF residents is 6.25% in state charges, a 1% city levy and 2.25% in county or affiliate agencies taxes.
Voters in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena recently approved local sales tax increases of 0.75%, officials said.
LCF officials said they anticipate additional sales tax measures from other entities sometime in the near future, but cities with their own measures receive first priority for sales tax collection and would take precedence over attempts from such entities.
In a presentation to council members, Adam Sonenshein, vice president of the opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (also known as FM3 Research), spoke about a survey regarding the potential city measure that was conducted from Aug. 26-Sept. 1.
Sonenshein said the survey sampled 374 registered LCF voters likely to cast ballots in the March election, and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 6.2%.
While 62% of the respondents felt the city government was doing an excellent or good job, just 37% believed the city had a great need for additional funding, Sonenshein said.
Respondents were split on the potential sales tax measure, with 45% in favor and 50% opposed. After educational outreach that included assurance that funds would be used locally and used to respond to natural disasters and prevent property crimes, the yes total increased to 56% and the no total decreased to 37%, he said.
Potential voters were also asked about the LCUSD parcel tax, which district consultants recommended be kept at the current rate of $450 per parcel, with adjustments for the annual consumer price index to offset inflation. The vote would extend a tax that was passed in 2014 and is set to expire in June 2021.
Sonenshein said 61% of surveyed voters would support the parcel tax, a number that would fail to meet the two-thirds threshold for passage. The presence of both measures on the ballot appeared to hurt the viability of each, with 42% approving the city’s proposal and 56% agreeing to the LCUSD measure.
Councilman Jonathan Curtis asked Alexander during the meeting what would happen if the city allowed the sales tax proposal to move forward but also asked school officials to delay or postpone their parcel tax measure.
Alexander said an answer would be received from the district before the next council meeting, scheduled for Nov. 4.
“The city attorney would have the green light to start working on the language and to get that language up to the state so the state could review and approve that language and staff would start soliciting proposals from public education consultants to begin that process,” Alexander said.
Pieroni said the next opportunity for such a measure to be placed on the ballot in a general election — at a cost of $3,863 compared with approximately $173,000 for a special election — would be March 2022.
“The risk is, within that two-year time period, the county may take that half-percent itself and we have lost. … Even then it might not give us an opportunity,” he said.
Curtis noted it was possible the city could work with the school district to promote both measures, but Pieroni was less sure.
“I never really thought of Jon’s perspective that you could join them together … and I’m not sure how that would work,” Pieroni said.

RESIDENTIAL BURGLARIES, OTHER CRIMES DISCUSSED

During a public safety report, Capt. Todd Deeds of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station said 11 residential burglaries and one robbery were reported in September. There were no homicides or reports of rape, he said.
“The residential burglaries spiked by one compared to August,” Deeds told the council in his report. “As of right now, for the month of October, we’ve only had two residential burglaries. There was a burglary crew that was taken down by [the L.A. County sheriff’s] Major Crimes Bureau at the beginning of October. They were captured in Monterey Park in the act of committing a burglary. There were four males that were arrested. We were able to tie those four males to two burglaries in our area.”
According to statistics provided at the meeting, there were 80 residential burglaries from January-September, compared with 43 during the same period last year.
Deeds, who said the men arrested in the Monterey Park crimes were still in custody, said the Major Crimes Bureau is investigating whether there are any more connections between the suspects and residential burglaries in LCF. The captain said he noticed a situation in which residential burglaries in this area appeared to be prevented when Glendale police arrested suspects in connection with some burglaries in early August.
“Hopefully the numbers stay low, and our deputies are out there working very hard,” Deeds said. Besides some extra help his station has received from the Sheriff’s Department, he said a bike patrol was to begin this week in the business district with a focus on TJ Maxx, which has been hit by robbers this year.
“We know that’s where there’s a problem,” Deeds said. “We’re going to keep a visibility out there with the bike patrol.”
As for other recent residential burglaries, Deeds said the Major Crimes Bureau had taken over the investigation of some nighttime crimes because of their seriousness.
“I have no doubt they’ll figure out who’s responsible,” Deeds said. “We’re in constant communication with Major Crimes. They’re the best in the business. They’re very determined to capture those people.”
Anderson Mackey, an assistant L.A. County fire chief, said there had been 129 responses from his department — including 83 medical calls — in the area, with no fires reported.

BROADCASTS OF MEETINGS ADDRESSED

The City Council established a new policy for the broadcasting of meetings on various media formats. Its action means that Planning Commission meetings also will be broadcast, and clarified that council meetings not held in the panel’s chambers will be not be broadcast.
Councilman Gregory Brown said he would like to include more commissions.
The new rules take effect Nov. 1.

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