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This post originally appeared in the Politics Report on July 31. Sign up for the Politics Report today, an exclusive newsletter for members.
Last week, a poll went out asking San Diego residents if they would support a tax for libraries and parks.
Specifically, it said:
Would you vote for or against this measure?
To fund library and park services — including after-school programs, computer access for low-income families, job training and social service assistance for homeless residents, preserving open space for public use and restoring Balboa Park, shall the City of San Diego establish and annual parcel tax of two cents per square foot up to a maximum of one acre, subject to a 2% annual adjustment, raising approximately $40 million annually until ended by voters – with exemptions for agricultural property, low-income, and disabled residents, and citizens’ oversight.
Turns out, there is a movement underway to get this onto the November 2022 ballot. Here’s a statement from Michel Anderson, the chair of the Parks Foundation, and Patrick Steward, the CEO of the Library Foundation: “Every community deserves quality parks and libraries, so the San Diego Park Foundation is working with the San Diego Public Library Foundation and other civic groups to address the significant underfunding of parks and library facilities and services. We are exploring potential policy options and look forward to continuing this conversation with community and elected leaders to develop a long-term plan to implement the important goals outlined in the Parks and Library Master Plans.”
And there’s another big partner: the Municipal Employees’ Association, the largest union of city of San Diego workers.
Michael Zucchet, the general manager of MEA, told VOSD that they’re always interested in revenue measures.
“This cycle, we wanted to think about if we were to design a measure on our own, what would it look like? What’s the best vehicle for it? And, obviously, we have this new legal reality of a 50 percent threshold for citizen sponsored initiatives,” he said.
Several years ago when a Supreme Court ruling that indicated citizens’ initiatives that increase taxes do not necessarily need support from two-thirds of voters, we speculated that it would transform municipal finance. From stadium projects, to convention centers to this kind of thing, all of it would suddenly be on the table. Now it is.
Zucchet said none of the details – how much of a tax it is, on what parcels or square feet – is not settled. But the focus on parks and libraries is deliberate.
“At least in the city of San Diego, the first services on the chopping block whenever there’s even a hint of a budget crisis are library hours, rec center hours and parks programs,” he said. The new money would provide an dedicated revenue stream for those programs.