By Miriam Raftery
December 11, 2019 (Lemon Grove) – A challenge seeking to block the Lemon Grove sales tax initiative on technical grounds won’t be heard until February 21 – too late to keep the measure off the March 3, 2020 ballot. But if a judge rules the process was invalid, the vote could later be voided and the sales tax hike would not take effect.
The initiative, Measure S, would raise the sales tax by three quarters of a cent, from 7.75 to 8.5 percent. The city is facing serious financial shortfalls, with a budget deficit of nearly $1.2 million projected by the end of its fiscal year 2021-22. More than 85% of the city’s budget is spent on public safety, police and fire protection, leaving not enough money for other needs.
The initiative would raise an estimated $3 million, supporters say, if the measure is approved by voters and allowed by the court to take effect. But if a judge finds the measure invalid, citizens would have to repeat the signature-gathering process and the city would have to incur thousands of dollars in new costs to place the measure on a future ballot a second time.
The lawsuit filed by resident John L. Wood on behalf of Lemon Grove Neighbors Against the Lifetime Tax contends that the Vote Yes for the Lemon Grove Sales Tax group failed to comply with a state election code requirement to publish names of the backers. A published notice included only the title and summary of the measure.
The initiative backers named in the suit include newly appointed Councilmember Yadira Altamirano, former Councilmember George Gastil, and Jay Bass, as well as Registrar of Voters Michael Vu and City Clerk Shelley Chapel.
Gastil has acknowledged the error but said voters were not harmed by the mistake, and that their names were on the petitions signed by voters, on the city website, social media and in news article. “The harm to the public would be much greater if this wasn’t voted on,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune.