In the Sunday, September 16th edition of this paper a letter from Gay Gerlack was published in support of Measure X. I wanted to write a letter, which I will hope you will publish, to help your readers consider some of the problems with Measure X. This letter is a bit longer, but given that no argument against Measure X will appear in November’s voter information ballot, I hope that you will indulge it.
On its face, Measure X sounds like a tremendous opportunity to solve some of our city’s toughest challenges: homelessness, school safety, recruitment and retention of police officers and other essential city workers, 911 response time improvement, crime prevention and investigation and prevention, youth and senior programs, maintenance and infrastructure issues, and other essential city services. These are things that we all can support. However, it is very concerning that Measure X provides no specifics on how much money will be spent on each of these issues or a timeframe for doing so. But… it’s the last item on this list that is most concerning, “providing other essential city services”, a statement in the measure which is essentially a “blank check” and allows for this or any other future city council until 2034 to deem anything to be “essential” and thereby fund whatever they want using these dollars.
I understand that there will be an oversight committee created, but the language of the measure does not give this committee any specific authority to control how these funds are spent. In fact, the only mention of this committee in the measure at all is that it will be appointed by the council, but it says nothing about what power it will have to approve or deny expenditures.
Measure X will raise the sales tax in Martinez to be among the highest in Contra Costa County, 9.25%. This is the same rate as only three other cities in the County and only one city has a higher rate. Every other city in our County is managing on sales taxes in the 8% range. As a result, this measure will negatively impact the sales of small businesses in our city.
The big question that I believe voters should be asking is “why is the city so short of money anyway?” It’s a good question in light of the fact that, despite the dire need for money that seems to be conveyed by the backers of Measure X, and despite the fact that our Police Department has been underfunded and understaffed for years, the City Council thought it wise to use $400,000 out of the city’s general fund to renovate one of our baseball fields to the standards needed to accommodate a professional baseball team. When I brought this up at a recent City Council meeting (August 22), the city manager rebuked my comments as a “common misunderstanding” by the general public about that expenditure and that the renovated field benefits all citizens of Martinez, not just the Clippers baseball team. But I ask now: would the city have renovated the baseball field to the standards needed by a professional ball team if it was merely to provide a place for the citizens to enjoy activities such as adult softball or little league? Would the city have installed enough bleacher seating to accommodate several hundred spectators? Would we have installed such high-powered lighting? The answer of course is “no”. And, to top it off, it is my understanding that the citizens of Martinez are not even allowed to use this field without applying for a special permit, which is not the case for every other baseball field in the city. It is disingenuous for the City Manager to claim that these renovations were not made to benefit the Clippers, a privately-owned team. The baseball field expenditure is just one of many examples of how our City Council has not been fiscally responsible.
The City Council claims they have overwhelming citizen support for a “general tax” as indicated by a recent survey. What they don’t say, and what has been left out of the justification for Measure X all together, is that while the majority support for such a measure was initially at 60% of those surveyed, it dropped to a slim majority of 54% (within the survey’s margin of error) after hearing some of the arguments against it. Also left unsaid is that a larger majority of Martinez citizens (70%) indicated they would support a special purpose tax to fund police services… one that would have restrictions on how the monies could be spent. Support on a special purpose tax dropped only a few points to 66% after hearing some of the arguments against it. The conclusion of the survey was that while a general-purpose tax measure had a majority level of support, that it was only a slight majority. Most citizens would be more than happy to support a specific special restricted tax to better fund police services and such a measure would likely pass with flying colors. Why didn’t our City Council put a special tax on the ballot? Simple, they don’t want the money to be restricted… they want to have money to spend without restrictions.
The City of Martinez is a wonderful place to live due in large part to the dedicated efforts of our police department, city maintenance workers, and a supportive citizenry.
We entrust a large amount of money to our City Council and rightfully expect them to be wise in its use.
In my opinion Measure X is giving them way too much latitude with the checkbook and should be defeated. That’s not to say that I don’t think that the issues which Measure X promises to address don’t need attention and funding. I just believe that there are better ways to do it.