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Salinas Voters To Weigh in On a One Cent Tax, Twice

Krista Almanzan

Walking into Salinas City Hall, the first thing you might notice are the business hours posted on the front door: “Closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday”.  But this perpetual three day weekend is nothing to celebrate. 

Salinas City Manager Ray Corpuz says, it’s a reflection of how the recession has hurt the city’s budget.  “Trying to serve the public with just four days has been a very difficult challenge,” says Corpuz.

He sees a solution in Measure G on the November ballot.  It’s a one-cent sales tax lasting 15 years.  The tax would generate an estimated $20-million a year for the city’s general fund.    

Its money Corpuz says could help the city re-open five days a week and cover the rising cost of employee health benefits.  But ultimately it’s the city council who would decide how that money is spent, and Corpuz says community input has identified roughly 17 areas to address.

“So along with police, they wanted us to fix the parks, make sure we had recreation programs youth, and lots of support for different infrastructure types of improvement: streets, sidewalks, lighting -- all the things that really help with the quality of life in the city,” says Corpuz.

It’s quality of life that Salinas City Councilman Tony Barerra has in mind.  He’s standing on the corner of Del Monte and North Sanborn Road at the very edge of his east Salinas district.  There’s a bakery on one corner, a bus stop on another, but Barrera is here to talk about what’s not visible.

“Even half a block from here, there’s two houses where there are more than 15 to 20 people living in one house,” he says.  Then he describes home garages that have been converted into mechanic shops.  “There’s a black market of business. It’s intense.”

And Barerra says it’s all happening because the city lacks enough code enforcement officers to educate people and enforce the law.  So that’s one of the things he’d like to see come out of Measure G revenues.  “So there has to be a balance safety and infrastructure.  The general tax provides for that,” says Barerra.

But it’s that general nature of a general tax that’s a problem for Raymond DeLoe, Involvement Minister at Crossroads Christian Church in Salinas and an opponent of Measure G. 

“I’m not in favor of any tax that goes into the general fund that is going to continue to propagate those issues we currently have.  The problems that we have in the city come from the city itself,” says DeLoe.

As he sees it, the City’s existing commitments to employee retirement and health benefits will eat up any of the money that comes in from Measure G.

“Before you hire another employee, before you fix any potholes, any of those things, your $20-million is gone,” says DeLoe.

Still, he would support a tax if he knew it was going to what he considers to be Salinas's top problem, public safety.  Which is exactly what Amit Pandya has in mind. He’s owner of Green Phoenix Auto Repair on Main Street.   He says local businesses are afraid of being robbed, vandalized or worse.

“The number one problem has is the crime: the shooting, the drugs and the gangs. I have little kids. I want them to grow up and go to school and be productive members of the community without having the fear of what is outside of the house,” says Pandya.

He chairs the Salinas Committee for Public Safety.  The group is behind a second tax measure, which is not on the November ballot.  The Committee collected 13,000+ signatures, more than what's needed to call a special election.  An election date is yet to be set, but the measure will likely go before voters early next year.

This one-cent sales tax, which also sunsets in 15 years would provide money exclusively for fire, code enforcement and police.  Pandya has been involved in this issue for years as a concerned citizen, but more recently he became a victim when his house was burglarized. 

“Unfortunately when a home burglary happens and you call the police, the response is we have other high priority crimes.  We cannot send a policeman to you.  Just go online and file a police report,” says Pandya.

“That’s very common,” says Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin.  “We encourage a lot of people to go online and file their reports. The downside of that is we’re telling them there’s very little we can do for them.”

Chief McMillin says the department is struggling to provide basic services after losing about 25% of the force during the recession.  He has a long list of needs including everything from a new cars to a new facility, but he doesn’t have a position on either tax.

“I’m agnostic in terms of where the money comes from.  If we were to get a significant revenue increase into the Police Department, the first thing we would do is rebuild our police force, so that people wouldn’t have to wait for hours for a police officer to respond,” says McMillin. 

As an added twist to both of these tax measures, the state has a 2-cent cap on the amount that can be tacked on to the sales tax. Salinas already has a ½ cent tax on the books.  Going over 2-cents requires a legislative exemption, which is not impossible. 

According to the State Board of Equalization, right now several California communities have legislative authority to exceed the cap including El Cerrito, Richmond and Los Angeles County.

There are two upcoming community forums hosted by the Salinas Committee for Public Safety to discuss the special tax measure.  Someone from the Measure G campaign has been also asked to speak.

Thursday, October 23rd

6:30 to 8:00pm.

Church of the Rock

1375 E. Market Street, Salinas

Tuesday, October 28th

6:30 to 8:00pm

Boronda Meadows Elementary School

915 Larkin Drive, Salinas