The South Pasadena City Council came to a decision at its last meeting that they characterized as painful when they voted unanimously to adopt a financial plan that will cut $3.4 million from the budget if a challenge to the utility users tax (UUT) is approved by voters in November.
The UUT is the city’s second largest source of revenue, according to Stephanie DeWolfe, So Pas city manager, who presented the draft implementation plan during the council’s meeting Sept. 19. She said during her presentation that the UUT accounts for about 12 percent of the general fund. The UUT places a 7.5 percent levy on utilities such as cable television, water, electricity and phone service, according to city officials.
The city is prohibited by law to lobby for or against the UUT on the Nov. 6 ballot as Measure N. City officials have, instead, presented dire predictions to residents if the UUT is repealed. The city has also cast the proponents of the UUT repeal as a “Pasadena-based group” in its official city statements regarding the cuts as recently as Sept. 20.
While indeed supported by a Pasadena faction of the Tea Party, the main proponents of the repeal actually happen to be longtime South Pasadena residents and one was the So Pas city treasurer, Edward A. Ristow, from 1972 to 1995. Ristow, who has lived in the city since 1965, has said he supports the repeal because he loves the city and is trying to save it from financial ruin. In fact, he predicts that in the case the UUT is not repealed, a scenario he acknowledges is likely to happen, the cuts being put forth if the repeal is successful will occur anyway.
“That will happen,” Ristow predicted during an earlier interview. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Councilwoman Diana Mahmud, however, wanted to know why Ristow and other supporters of the repeal were not present at the Sept. 19 council meeting, especially since it had been heavily publicized that the main topic of discussion at this particular City Council meeting would be the potential UUT repeal. There was no one in attendance at the council meeting that supported the repeal. The three speakers that addressed the UUT directly were supporters of the tax.
“It’s really frustrating that the folks that obviously we know of that have been identified as supporting this measure aren’t here to listen to some of these comments because I think they’re the ones that need to learn some of the information that has been presented,” Mahmud said during the meeting.
One of the main repeal supporters, Marcy Guzman, said she has difficulty attending meetings because of family commitments but does attend when she can.
“I have two kids and my husband works nights, but we are trying to get our message out more,” Guzman said. “We are all volunteers and want to be at the meetings. Sometimes we just can’t.”
The group has created a website, southpastax.org, that will have information regarding their position, she said. Also, Guzman said she believed a public forum would be helpful where both sides would have the opportunity to explain their positions. However, she was concerned that such a forum would not be helpful if it became emotionally polarized.
Ristow agreed with the caveat that the exchange of ideas and information was done in a civilized manner.
Ed Donnelly, co-chair of the South Pasadena Public Service Committee 2018, which is against repealing the UUT, said a forum probably would not be helpful at this juncture.
“I’m not sure we would have a very good turn out for a third event, especially as it would likely occur after voters get their mail-in ballots in about a week or so,” Donnelly said in an email to the Review. “Without good attendance, and ballots already being mailed in by roughly 40 percent of the voters in town, a forum probably wouldn’t be very helpful to South Pasadena residents.”
Meanwhile, the city predicted the following cuts if the tax is repealed.
“The proposed cuts include layoffs in the police, fire, library and community service departments, along with substantial reductions in planned street repairs and maintenance,” according to a prepared statement released by the city the day after the Sept. 19 City Council meeting.
Mayor Dr. Richard D. Schneider added his voice to the discussion.
“This plan shows clearly that the loss of the UUT would bring about a significant and long-lasting reduction in the quality of life in South Pasadena,” Mayor Dr. Richard Schneider said in a prepared statement. “Everyone in our community would be affected.”
South Pasadena is obligated to prepare for the loss of UUT revenue through a draft implementation plan, DeWolfe said in the same prepared statement.
The draft implementation plan adopted by the Council Sept. 19 includes layoffs of 12 public safety employees, including three paramedic-firefighters and six police cadets; the elimination of all City crossing guards, police air support, and a school safety officer; full public library closures on Sundays and Mondays, reduced hours all other days, and the elimination of all library special programs, technology upgrades and capital improvements; reduction of about $1 million a year in street repairs and maintenance; elimination of the entire recreation department and all of its programs, including those for seniors and children; and the elimination of community-based crime-prevention programs.
The City Council voted unanimously to adopt the draft implementation plan, which would then return to the Council for final approval if the UUT repeal is successful Nov. 6.