By Jonathan Goetz
Signature drive not on track to meet end of September deadline to make it on the ballot without massive last-minute influx of signature gatherers
September 15, 2019 (Lemon Grove) – Firefighters led volunteers who spread out through Lemon Grove yesterday to collect signatures on a ballot measure that would bring Lemon Grove's sales tax on par with La Mesa, raising it by ¾ a cent. The measure, if approved, which would nearly double the amount the City receives as its share of the sales tax.
Proponents have 15 more days to collect enough signatures, but are not on track yet to meet the September 30 deadline to put the measure on the ballot.
The future of the city hangs in the balance with Lemon Grove struggling financially. The vast majority of revenues fund Sheriff and firefighting, with not enough left over to fund projects sought by residents such as sidewalks, road improvements, recreation programs and more.
The group hopes either a huge donor comes through with funds for a much higher per signature bounty, and/or local clubs, organizations and individuals to announce their walks to email lists and phone trees, the same way firefighters did yesterday.
Walks are planned for the next two weekends in Lemon Grove, September 21, 22, 28 and 29. Proponents will meet in the Sprouts parking lot at 3205 Lemon Grove Avenue the final two Saturdays in September at 9 a.m., and final two Sundays at 3 p.m. Registered voters in Lemon Grove may stop by to sign the Lemon Grove security petition, those two Saturdays from 9am-noon and Sundays from 3 to 7 p.m. Any registered voter in California may circulate the petitions.
A similar measure passed in neighboring El Cajon during the great recession with massive help of police, fire, and a fiscally responsible republican City Council.
Brad Maxfield, Union President of Heartland Firefighters, told East County Magazine “I've worked in the City for 10 years now. I've seen it through its ups and downs. Now, public safety is getting depleted as well as many other aspects of the City. We need a tax to raise the funds the City needs to serve its citizens.”
Photo, right: Firefighters Brad Maxfield and Suzanna Hales, out in the heat to collect signatures
“I've been walking door-to-door since August,” said Suzanna Hales, engineer with Heartland Fire. “It's been a really positive experience: coming into contact with residents whose eyes light up when I tell them that these funds will be going towards fire and emergency services, and generating economic growth, and that these funds will stay in the City.”
“I'm missing Georgette Gomez's kick-off to be here,” lamented Professor and UCSD advisor George Gastil, referring to the San Diego City Council president’s Congrewsional candidacy announcement. Councilman David Arambula was also there in shorts and a T-shirt, on a hot summer day that forced plans to change slightly, in order to protect the volunteers.
“Currently, our sales tax is 7.75%, and we're only getting 1 cent. This would increase it to 1.75 cents,” Yadira Altamirano, Proponent, and Lemon Grove Business Owner, told volunteers, including several firefighters who showed up to try and save public safety, and the sliver of the general fund Lemon Grove spends on other things, such as road repair, public safety improvements and public parks.
East County Magazine pressed Gastil on the reason for a $1.2-$1.8 million revenue enhancement when the shortfall is currently $400,000 a year, this year, saved by a one-time loan repayment.
Gastil replied, “It's a long-range structural issue. The cost of public safety personnel goes up more each year than our city revenues go up. This would also put us in a much better position if we go into a recession, and I was on the Council last time we had a recession, and also on the School Board during another recession. If it looks like we have more than we need, that's not really a problem. That's because there is a good economy right now, and thus any extra revenue would go to one time expenses instead of long-term commitments, except of course, for our police and fire contractual commitments, and there is a community advisory committee that I hope would track how much is raised and give recommendations for how it is spent, and track how it is spent, so the public will always know where this money is going.”
There have been rumors of disincorporation, something proponents are trying to avoid. They also worry whether the County, La Mesa or San Diego would be willing to take over the area, given its revenue short-fall and public debts--debts which the other entity would also be forced to acquire.
Last year, a measure considered by the City Council failed to obtain the 4/5 majority by the City Council needed to put the measure on the ballot, with Mayor Racquel Vasquez, Councilmembers David Arambula and Jennifer Mendoza voting yes, while Councilmen Jerry Jones and Matt Mendoza voted no.
Councilman Jones has emailed ECM to indicate he now supports the ballot measure, after the amount was increased from a half-cent to three quarters of a cent. "I’ve done the calculations and that gives us 10 years at the status quo and enough money at the beginning to invest in programs and infrastructure to make us more sustainable," he says, adding, "The challenge will be in making them spend the money wisely."
Find more information at www.ProtectLemonGrove.com or SweetenLemonGrove on Facebook and Instagram.
Please also feel free to participate in the comments below with your thoughts for or against Lemon Grove's proposed sales tax parity with La Mesa.