The date is now set. It will take just over a year for Signal Hill voters to determine the fate of a proposed initiative that aims to significantly change Signal Hill’s charter surrounding taxes, bonds and fees. City Clerk Kathee Pacheco reported at the Feb. 5 Council meeting that the initiative dubbed “Taxpayer’s Right to Know and Vote” will be on the ballot on June 3, 2014.
The initiative has served as one of the clear dividing lines between the three incumbent councilmembers, who have in the past criticized the initiative and are seeking another term in office, and the four challengers, who are major initiative supporters and are hoping for a spot on the Council at the March 5 election. The incumbents are Michael Noll, Ellen Ward and Ed Wilson. The four challenging candidates are Robert Mendoza, Nancy Sciortino, Elizabeth Wise and Lori Woods.
The initiative designed to change the city charter has several components. It will require voters to approve all taxes, assessments and fees with a two-thirds majority. The initiative will also require taxes and fees to expire within 10 years. Assessments will expire in 20 years. Bonds would have to be repaid within 20 years.
Proponents who had spent about six months collecting signatures had been successful in gathering enough of them to get the initiative on the ballot. According to the city clerk staff report, 871 signatures were found sufficient, and those signatures qualified the initiative for a special election. The initiative is now set for the statewide primary election which will be held in June of next year.
The Council took the time to scrutinize the initiative again at its meeting on Feb. 5. City Attorney David Aleshire said that the initiative would not affect sanitation district fees or property taxes.
The city attorney, however, was directly challenged by Carol Churchill, a former Signal Hill mayor and major proponent of the “Taxpayer’s Right to Know” initiative. She quoted the city charter, stating that the City has the “full power to enact any taxes and fees.” She identified several of the examples of the taxes and fees noted in the charter, specifically naming property taxes among them.
“So perhaps your council was not aware that their charter included the power to raise property tax,” Churchill told the Council, “and maybe the Council would like to consider a charter commission to review its charter, find out if it actually includes the things that it intended to include.”
At Councilmember Ward’s request for a clarification, Aleshire said that the City has no ability to raise taxes beyond the current property tax and that California Proposition 13 applies to property taxes. The city attorney explained that the City cannot change or repeal Prop. 13.
“The property tax is in the charter, but it’s superseded by the constitutional provision of Proposition 13,” the city attorney concluded. Aleshire warned that the initiative’s language did apply the right to vote to other revenue sources including assessment districts.
Aleshire’s concerns about the initiative’s language were touched on by Mayor Tina Hansen who acknowledged that there was a “difference of opinion” on the scope of the initiative. She used the example of whether there would need to be a vote of the people to pass an increased fee to rent library DVDs.
“However, we made those comments and concerns very loud and clear,” Hansen said, “and we were assured over and over again that that was not the intention, which I would assume in any subsequent lawsuit would certainly be part of any record what the writer’s intention was or was not. But the individuals who circulated petitions chose not to address those concerns, so I don’t really know that negotiating would have ever done anything, but I certainly appreciate the comments about that tonight.”
The city attorney added that if there is a lawsuit, a judge could also interpret the meaning of the initiative. Aleshire addressed whether the language of the initiative could be modified or tweaked in any way. He said that if the initiative passes, the only way it can be changed in the future would be through passing another law.
“The only way to actually change the language would be through the election process,” Aleshire said.
Later that night, Churchill acknowledged that this could be a possibility– that the city leaders could offer their own initiative for a charter amendment if they would like to work with individuals.
“So I’d like you to consider that as one option as a win-win for the community,” Churchill said.
She explained that the efforts last year to push for the charter amendment initiative came after residents raised objections to the Council’s decision to approve an economic-development ordinance. She warned about one scenario for the City under this ordinance.
“And if in fact, redevelopment money was gone and if the council chose to promote an economic-development project through this economic ordinance, and they lacked the funding to do so, that there was a possibility that residents would be asked to fund things through special assessment districts,” Churchill said.
Aleshire explained the purpose of the economic-development ordinance that was passed last year, stating that it did not increase property taxes or any other kind of taxes on the residents.
“It just provided the ability to try and negotiate things with developers in the future,” Aleshire said. “But that ordinance did not provide for any specific tax, assessment, fee increase to anybody,”
Other City Council highlights
Cherry Avenue The Council voted to adopt plans for the Cherry Avenue widening project. The City will be requesting formal authorization from Caltrans to proceed with the construction. The project has been budgeted for $6.7 million, and the entire amount is being funded through grants from state and federal sources, according to a report from Steve Myrter, the director of public works. Myrter offered an estimate that the project may be completed by the end of the year.
Successor Agency The Successor Agency adopted a resolution that approved an obligation payment schedule for the period of July 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2013. The report reflects $5.8 million in tax increment plus $1.7 million in bond proceeds for that period.
Change of voting venue Mayor Hansen announced that the voters in a precinct 6450004A located south of Hill Street and between Cherry Avenue and the eastern and southern city boundaries will vote at the Family Church at 2094 Cherry Ave. There was an error in the map in the sample ballot. Hansen said that notices will be mailed to the voters in this precinct. Resident Maria Harris asked that the City take special measures to notify these voters of the change of poll location.