The UUT Repeal Supporters produced an advertisement resembling a newspaper that has been given to registered voters in South Pasadena to try and persuade them to repeal the local utility tax. Photo by Steve Whitmore

In the Oct. 26 edition of The Review there was an incorrect headline. The headline “UUT Proponents Print Advertorial for Voters” is incorrect. The correct headline is “UUT Repeal Proponents Print Advertorial for Voters.” The Review regrets this error.

The local group that’s trying to repeal what they characterize as an unnecessary and even financially harmful So Pas tax, Measure N, has packaged an advertisement to look like a newspaper and has sent it to every registered voter in the city.

Voters are going to the polls Nov. 6 to decide whether to vote  on Measure N, which is the Utility Users Tax (UUT). The UUT provides about 12 percent of the city’s general fund, which translates to about $3.4 million of the city’s approximate $25 million budget.

If a person votes yes on Measure N, the UUT is repealed. If they vote no, it is not.

The UUT provides funds for public safety, fire, senior programs, a school resource officer, crossing guards, street and sidewalk repairs, public library services, the July 4th parade, and summer concerts, among other items. The tax is on water, power, cell phone, cable, electricity and gas bills, among others. All the money generated from the UUT stays within South Pasadena.

The UUT was first passed by So Pas voters in 1983, and was renewed by voters again in 2011, ostensibly for a 10-year term. The last time the UUT faced the voters, it barely passed with just above 51 percent of the vote.

Ed Donnelly, co-chair of a recently formed committee, South Pasadena Public Service Committee 2018, which is opposed to the repeal, has said the UUT provides necessary funding for city services. The group has raised money to get its message out along with holding several public events. The No on Measure N yard signs dot city streets and are visible in abundance. The committee even has a public relations person working to get the message out to vote no on the measure.

Donnelly said they expected the newspaper to be sent eventually because it’s exactly what the group did in Sierra Madre. The Sierra Madre voters were faced with the same repeal in April and “resoundingly” rejected the repeal, according to Donnelly.

“We knew we would see this eventually and we knew what would be in it,” Donnelly said during a telephone interview last Friday. “It’s the same nonsense they’ve been saying all along. They did the exact same thing in Sierra Madre and they lost by a landslide.”

Those in favor of the repeal say they’ve had “very little” funds for advertising, yard signs or public events. Instead, they say, they’ve tried to get their message out the best way they can without having much money.

They decided on the newspaper idea because it was what they could afford, according to Marcy Guzman, a member of the group seeking the UUT repeal.

“We couldn’t afford anything else and we thought this was the best way to get our message out,” Guzman said recently during telephone interview. “We have sent it to every registered voter in South Pasadena.”

The advertisement is on eight pages of what appears to be newspaper stock and is called “The Taxpaper Gazette.” It contains articles by Ed Ristow, the former So Pas city treasurer from 1972 – 1995, entitled “Excessive Spending is the Problem,” along with other articles, charts and even two advertisements from Radio Free Los Angeles and the Yes on 6 campaign.

The newspaper also has a two-page chart that shows employees’ pay and benefits. The data is attributed to TransparentCalifornia.com, the website that tracks government employees’ salaries and benefits. The chart also has a section dedicated to what CalPERS paid So Pas retirees that make more than $70,000 in 2017. Again, the data is attributed to TransparentCalifornia.com.

Donnelly points to that chart as another example of the misleading statements made by the group.

“The UUT has nothing to do with pensions,” Donnelly said. “It is not tied to the pension issue at all, so that’s more than disingenuous.”

The advertisement/newspaper indicates that it was paid for by the Committee to Stop the South Pasadena UUT. The ad/newspaper also indicates that it’s at least partially or in large measure sponsored by the California Taxpayers Union in Pasadena.

City officials are prohibited from publicly using their elected office or their official staff position to lobby against or for Measure N. However, the City Council has proposed severe cuts to city services if the repeal goes forward. 

Those cuts would include the layoffs of 12 public safety employees, including three paramedics-firefighters, and six police cadets. It would also call for the elimination of crossing guards, police air support, and a school safety officer. The special programs at the library would be canceled, technology upgrades and capital improvements would be reduced. Reduces hours are also possible. There would also be a reduction of about $1 million a year in street repairs and maintenance. The recreation department and all its programs would be eliminated including those for seniors and children along with the elimination of community-based crime-prevention programs.

These cuts have been tentatively approved by the City Council if the UUT is repealed.

Steve Whitmore
Author

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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