Community

South Pasadena Citizens Group Supporting UUT Holds First Meeting

Billed as Ice-Cream Social, Scores Come Out to Hear Plea to Keep Tax
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This slide tells the audience what they can do to help the campaign. Photos by Steve Whitmore

A South Pasadena citizens group fighting the repeal of the utility users tax held its first informational meeting Tuesday night where organizers cajoled those attending to join the campaign to keep the city’s excellent quality of life.

The group, South Pasadena Public Services Committee 2018, was recently formed to protect the utility users tax or UUT, which provides funds for public safety, fire, senior programs, school resource officer, crossing guards, street and sidewalk repairs, public library, July 4th parade, summer concerts, among other items.

From left, Co-chairs of the South Pasadena Public Services Committee 2018, Yuki Cutcheon and Ed Donnelly, presented information during the meeting Tuesday night.

The repealing of the utility user tax or UUT is on the November ballot, and, if passed, would require significant cuts to the services provided to South Pasadena residents, according to Ed Donnelly, co-chair of the newly formed committee.

“The committee is a group of 15 residents and a couple dozen supporters who are concerned that our local utilities user tax is up for repeal this November,” Donnelly said prior to the meeting Tuesday night, which was billed as an Ice Cream Social. “I am so grateful for South Pasadena and its unique way of life. It is so special. The UUT provides us the means to do just that. We are here tonight to inform people exactly what the UUT does, what those funds are used for, and why they are so critical to maintain our quality of life here.”

The committee held its informational meeting Tuesday night in the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room. Officials estimate about 135 people attended the meeting, forcing organizers to place additional chairs throughout the room accommodate everybody.

If the UUT is eliminated on the November ballot, the city would lose about $3.5 million or 12 percent of its $27.5 million budget.

This slide tells the audience what they can do to help the campaign. Photos by Steve Whitmore

The UUT repeal is being pushed by a Tea Party faction known as the California Tax Limitation Committee. If a person wants to keep the utility tax, they vote “no.” If they want to repeal the tax, they vote “yes.”

The tax includes water, power, cell phone bills, cable, electricity and gas, among other utilities.

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 Tea Party faction, however, collected the necessary 360 South Pasadena signatures to place the repeal on the November ballot. Members of the California Tax Limitation Committee were unreachable for comment. This group has attempted the repeal of the same tax in Glendale, Arcadia and Sierra Madre. All attempts have failed.

The revenue from the UUT, which is the second largest revenue stream for the city behind property taxes, stays 100 percent within the city.

The South Pasadena Public Services Committee 2018 is registered with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, according to Donnelly. The committee has officially opened its bank account and is filing the necessary campaign finance disclosure forms as it receives campaign donations.

The committee has officially received $2,550 to date, according to Ellen Wood, committee treasurer. Donnelly said there is just under $10,000 pledged so far.

About 135 people crowded into the library’s Community Room Tuesday night to learn about the utility users tax.

“I haven’t check the PayPal account today,” Donnelly said Tuesday night. Donnelly estimates the campaign needs to raise more money to lodge a successful fight. The committee has hired TBWB Strategies to guide the effort. TBWB has successful helped Glendale fight the repeal of their UUT as well as helped the South Pasadena School District win voter approval for Measure S and Measure SP. The strategy and communications consulting firm specializes in public finance ballot measures.

Meanwhile, audience members at the informational meeting Tuesday night were decidedly in favor of keeping the UUT.

Take Courtney Peterson who’s lived in South Pasadena for the last 17 years.

“I am here tonight because I don’t know much about the UUT but I do know I love South Pasadena and I don’t want to see any cuts to our services,” Peterson said while she waited for the presentation to start. “My daughter, Jessica, and I love the Concerts in the Park and everything that makes this city so special.”

Peterson was not alone in her praise of the tax and the city.

This group of young people wanted to help out and volunteered to serve ice cream sundaes during the UUT meeting Tuesday night. The group was comprised of Hanwul Choi, 16; Braden Wong, 15; Cole Chuang, 16; Elissa Fong, 15; Charis Au, 16.

Even 16-year-old Hanwul Choi, who was volunteering serving ice cream sundaes, said the UUT is essential to the city.

“I’m volunteering on my own tonight because this is important to keeping our city as great as it is and to be engaged with our community is so important.”

Rob Clyde, an eight-year resident, latched onto getting involved in the community. He said the UUT has propelled him to step up his community activism.

“I’m here to support the UUT because it’s important to the future of my family,” Clyde said. “I am here to learn and to get involved. I have decided to make getting involved in South Pasadena a priority. I am going to find my voice and it’s because of the UUT.”

Recently, the UUT proponents got a boost when a community survey with a five percent margin of error that indicated 70 percent of South Pasadena residents want to keep the UUT.

The community survey, designed to gauge how South Pasadena residents feel about city services, had a break-out section for the UUT, which indicated the 70 percent favorability.

“We were very heartened by those results,” Donnelly said. “But we are taking nothing for granted. We are going to make sure the UUT is not repealed. The city needs it. The city deserves it. And when people understand what it pays for, they will also vote to keep it.” 

South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe – the city is prohibited from taking sides on the UUT ballot measure – said the tax will be discussed at City Council meetings, maybe as soon as this month.

“The potential loss of the utility users tax (UUT) is our top concern, as it would force significant and immediate cuts in city services,” DeWolfe said in earlier interviews. “We will bring a separate report to council in July that will discuss the fiscal impacts of the initiative … and outline the specific cuts that will be made if the repeal is successful.”

Longtime resident Liz Giffen-Glad has lived in South Pasadena for more than three decades and she summed up the importance of the UUT this way.

“I am pretty conservative and have an R by my name, so I am not a tax-and-spend liberal, but I know this is what we have to do,” said Giffen-Glad, who is on the board of the Senor Center Foundation. “Our community takes such good care of us seniors. You should see the Senior Center and how busy it is. And that’s just the Senior Center. Our public safety is good. All the services the city offers is what makes this life here in this city so special. I spent 38 years as a school administrator in LAUSD and have seen it all. This tax is special. We need to keep it.”

When the 90-minute meeting concluded, people milled around outside, speaking of ways to fight the UUT repeal.

For more information regarding the UUT, go to the committee’s website at SouthPasVoteNO.com.

Steve Whitmore

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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