Claremont Insider: Point of Clarification

Monday, June 11, 2007

Point of Clarification

Yesterday's post on the City of Claremont's Landscaping and Lighting District (LLD) was incorrect on a couple points. The issue is a complex one, but we thought we'd try to wade in again. As we noted, the city enacted the LLD in 1990. In November, 1996, California voters passed Proposition 218, which required such local assessments as the LLD be put before voters for approval if they had not already been subject to a vote. The LLD was originally enacted by the City Council without going before the voters.

After the passage of Prop. 218 in 1996, Claremont had until July 1, 1997, to either put the LLD to a vote during the next municipal election, or to restructure it and have it voted on by property owners only, as happened with last year's failed Parks and Pasture assessment district. If the city did neither, it would have had to drop the LLD. As long as the LLD vote was held before the July 1st date, it was only subject to a straight majority of registered voters.

What we consider disingenuous on the part of Claremont's former City Manager Glenn Southard and the City Council at that time was the combining of the LLD and Utility Tax votes into one referendum, Measure A, which appeared on the March, 1997, city ballot. In fact, Southard's analysis of the problem for a 11/25/96 study session concluded that the Utility Tax did not require a vote at all.

So why have a vote involving the Utility Tax? Southard, as always, had a strategy. Combining the LLD and Utility Tax in one referendum made the potential hit to the city's budget appear much bigger than the LLD alone. In the discussions preceding the Measure A vote, Southard presented only the totals of the tax and the assessment, saying that they added up to $4.5 million out of the $12.6 million General Fund at the time.

At no time does Southard split the amounts and state what the LLD alone was responsible for. He was very careful to repeatedly use the $4.5 million figure and to subtly raise the spectre of what cuts in services the city might have to consider. And in his reports to council on the matter at in November and December, 1997, he was clearly steering the matter to what he wanted--a single vote on the LLD and the Utility Tax, which is what he eventually got in Measure A.

The problem with combining the two, as we see it, is that it gave voters a false choice. The LLD and the Utility Tax are two very different funding mechanisms and rightly should have been voted on separately. Combining the two allowed the city to play the "poor, poor, pitiful me" card and say that if Measure A lost, Claremont would have to drastically cut services because it would have lost both of funding sources.

One can easily see a scenario where the Utility Tax might have passed, and the LLD, which remains very unpopular to this day, lost. But Southard never allowed the option of having them voted on separately to receive any serious consideration. He decided early on what his strategy was going to be, then he set about shaping the debate to get the desired outcome.

The combining of the two was wrong then, and, as we said yesterday, with the city continuing to play games with LLD, voters may yet take matters into their own hands.