Council Cleans Up Ballot Language on Measure O


walletOn Tuesday night, council believed it put to rest concerns raised by Bob Dunning and others that the ballot language on the sales tax measure was misleading to the voters.

The final language to Measure O now reads, “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the City of Davis to reauthorize and extend the existing half cent sales and use tax for general government purposes and increase the sales and use tax by an additional half cent, for a combined one cent tax, through December 31, 2020, be adopted?”

As the staff report noted, “Staff has been made aware of citizen concerns relating to the wording of the measure language and believes there is merit to bringing the issue to City Council to discuss.”

According to California Election Code, the council may amend any measure until the 83rd day prior to an election by filing a resolution stating the specifics concerning the amendment. The 83rd day prior to the June 3, 2014 election falls on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

The previous language was, “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to continue to collect a sales and use tax for general government purposes at the total rate of 1 percent through Dec. 31, 2020, be adopted?”

Mr. Dunning argued that the use of the word “continue” might suggest to voters that a “yes” “vote will merely sustain the status quo by extending a tax that is already in effect.”

He noted, “No mention anywhere of the half-cent increase we’re being asked to approve. Also no mention that the current half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.”

Mr. Dunning immediately jumped into nefarious assumptions as opposed to sloppy or legalistic explanations.  He wrote, “Why the council didn’t simply state those facts in plain, simple English is unclear. Maybe they think we’re stupid. Maybe they think we aren’t paying attention. Or maybe they hope they can slip this one past the censors with no one raising a red flag.”

He wrote, “Apparently, enough of us complained about this abuse of the language that the council has been sent back to the drawing board after having been taken behind the woodshed by an angry electorate.”

Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs originally backed Mr. Dunning’s preferred alternative, Option 2.  Mr. Dunning stated, “Staff has given the council three options if it chooses to make things right with the voters. Sadly, only one of those three options — Option No. 2 — fully and accurately describes exactly what we’re being asked to approve come June 3.”

Brett Lee originally argued for the staff preferred alternative of Option 1.  Mr. Dunning argued that this option “fails to mention that the current half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.”

Instead, he argued, “Option No. 2 tells us exactly what we’re authorizing, but its chances of passing are slim, perhaps because it’s so straightforward it might cause some citizens to vote ‘no.’”

The council, after considerable discussion, paused the item before coming up with the compromise language.

Jose Granda, who has opposed every school parcel tax before the voters, and is leading the charge against this one, argued, “It is deceptive. It makes it appear that we are voting to continue what already exists. If that is the case why we are having a special election in June?”

He would add, “Unaware the voters will be extending a tax already in effect until 2016 without the corresponding election. By lumping both taxes into one and both elections into one the Council is presenting a false and misleading measure.”

“How do you extend a tax and at the same time continue a tax on the same sentence, same election. It violates the single subject requirement of the California Constitution regarding ballot elections,” he asked.

However, what the city council has basically done is combined the current half cent sales tax with a new half-cent sales tax and extended the sunset date until December 31, 2020.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Council Cleans Up Ballot Language on Measure O”

  1. Michael Harrington

    Is it true that most of this tax increase is supposed to fund yet another staff pay raise ? So why dos the city mention fixing roads?

    I’m not convinced to vote for this. I still remember staff getting that large tax increase in 2004 for parks and family programs, then Saylor and Souza gave most of it to senior staff and the fire fighters the very next year.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Is it true that most of this tax increase is supposed to fund yet another staff pay raise ? ”

      No most of this funds increases in the cost of providing benefits to employees – health care, pensions, etc. Only a tiny fraction goes to pay increases which were used to offset increased costs to employees in covering their own pensions, retiree health, and reduction in cafeteria cash outs.

    2. Rich Rifkin

      Almost all of the money which the new tax will be used for is to cover new and higher employee compensation costs built into our present contracts and our past contracts. Some of that is a pay raise. The rest covers other aspects of total compensation.

      Had the Davis City Council simply stopped increasing total comp at a very rapid rate–slowed it down to 2% per year–there would be no need for any tax increase to cover red ink in the operating budget of the general fund.

      And this Council has never stated that, after this tax passes, it won’t keep jacking up total compensation rates. So if they won’t promise that, and we know how bad their record has been, why vote for this tax, now?

  2. growth issue

    How hard would it have been to just have the proper language in the first place? Why did it take public outcry to get it fixed? Yes, Dunning was right because it did give the appearance of trickery.

          1. growth issue

            Yes, it got fixed because people spoke up. Otherwise it most likely would’ve stayed the same.

          2. Matt Williams

            Two thoughts GI, first, the articles are covering the news, and both Mr. Dunning’s comments about the language and the Council changing the language were news.

            FWIW, I was in Council Chambers when the level of Sales Tax was being decided on and the acompanying ballot language determined, and the Council’s focus was on what level to pass. The language of what they passed was not in the front of their minds at all. Harriet Steiner should have given them better legal adice on language once they finally had decided on the level of tax they wanted.

          3. Davis Progressive

            largely agree with matt here. not sure what the big deal is. dunning should have held his fire until the language was codified, obviously he’s not truly against the proposed tax increase.

  3. Roger Bockrath

    Just interested to learn how much this special election in June will be costing Davis taxpayers and from which fund that money will be allotted

    1. Day Man

      It’s not a “special election” – it’s a standard election day, synchronized with our city council elections and statewide primaries. “Special elections” are indeed very expensive, but this isn’t one.

      If you are concerned about the cost of the actual election itself, then you should appreciate that they are “lumping” the tax extension and the tax raise into one ballot measure instead of separating them out (as some opponents of this sales tax have proposed).

    1. Day Man

      I was thinking the same thing. There are 26 letters in the alphabet. Let’s get a little more creative, guys.

      Or maybe some pollster did a study and found that people are more inclined to vote for O than other letters…

    2. growth issue

      Does it really surprise anyone that they used “O” again when we’re already paying a parcel tax on another “O”?
      This is all brought to you by the gang that had a hard time wording simple ballot language.

        1. Michelle Millet

          Oh sure, they are assigned by the county, or is that just want council members want us to think?

          It’s obvious that they choose that letter O because they thought that it would somehow trick people into voting for this tax measure giving them the money they need to buy Cadillacs for all the city employees.

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