Measure CR debate heats up as Election Day nears

With just weeks to go before Election Day, both supporters and opponents of Measure CR are staying positive.

Measure CR seeks to add three-quarters of a cent to the current tax rate in Claremont of 9.5 percent, for a new total of 10.25 percent.

The city and supporters of the measure have said the tax is needed to maintain current service levels, warning that certain programs and services might be cut if CR does not pass. Opponents argue the tax is regressive and would hurt local businesses and Claremonters on fixed or low incomes.

Opinions for and against the measure have taken to social media in recent weeks, flooding local Facebook groups and inundating the NextDoor app, with people on each side pleading their cases. In some instances, the back-and-forth has become contentious.

Laura Roach, chair for the Yes on CR committee, said in a phone interview Wednesday that she was pleased with how things are going with the Yes campaign.

“We’ve been precinct walking, and a lot of people have their minds made up already,” she said. “But what we have found…when you talk to people on the issue, common sense prevails and they tend to be an immediate yes.”

Ms. Roach said the Yes campaign has been talking with residents about the city’s need for the extra funding and the cuts that might be coming if the measure doesn’t pass. She found that people have been “generally supportive.”

During precinct walks, she has been “really surprised” by how well informed residents are about the measure.

“There are not many doors knocked on who don’t know the issue,” she said. “I think that’s a good sign.”

Donna Lowe, chair of the No committee, said things are going well with the group’s campaign.

“There’s a very diverse cross section of the community that is in opposition to Measure CR,” she said during a phone interview on Wednesday.

She called CR “nothing more than a money grab,” because of the lack of earmarks in the tax. Some programs, such as the senior lunches, would not be affected by cuts because they are funded by grants, she said.

“I think they’re using scare tactics and ‘the sky is falling’ kind of routine and voters are seeing through that,” Ms. Lowe said.

A point of contention between the two sides is the state sales tax cap. Supporters have maintained that Claremont needs to keep the .75 percent gap in the city before another agency, such as LA County Fire or the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), gets a hold of it.

Ms. Lowe claimed Claremont is already over the cap. The base sales tax rate in California is at 7.25 percent,  she said, and cities and counties combined tax rate is not supposed to go more than two percent above that.

“So our cap would conceivably be only 9.25 percent,” she said.

There have been exceptions made at the state level, however, and currently all of Los Angeles County has sales tax rates that go beyond that two percent limit, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill in July that would have allowed the cities of Scotts Valley and Emeryville to increase their sales tax rate past the two percent cap.

When Claremont’s current 9.5 percent tax rate is broken down, six percent goes into the state’s general fund, .25 percent goes to LA County and one percent is sent back to the city. The rest goes to two “district taxes” made up of countywide measures—one at 1.25 percent (with a two percent cap) and another at one percent cap.

Measure CR would increase the city’s share from the one percent provided by the state to 1.75 percent, which could generate around $2.5 million annually, the city has said. 

Ms. Roach said there isn’t one law that definitively declares a state sales tax cap of 10.25 percent, rather there’s a “very complicated weaving” of many different laws that, when combined, is considered the “cap” by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA).

“I have been saying quite candidly—can we guarantee the cap can always be 10 and a quarter? No, we can’t,” she said. “We live in a democracy where things are allowed to change, and many times they do, because that’s how democracy works.”

But, she added, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite to increase the state cap anytime soon. She pointed to SB732, a bill that would have allowed the AQMD to go one percent over the cap in cities that are already maxed out to collect funds.

The bill was pulled from consideration in its first year and turned into a two-year bill, which means it “basically has a giant scarlet letter on it” and would need to be substantially revised, Ms. Roach said.

“I think its unlikely that bill is going to move forward,” she said. “Certainly not in its current form.”

LA County Fire sent out a mailer this week to float the idea of a potential parcel tax, as opposed to a sales tax increase, that would pay for emergency services.

There are local examples of cities not paying into county measures because it would go above their cap. Long Beach, La Mirada, Compton, Lynwood, Pico Rivera, Santa Monica and South Gate don’t pay into Measure H, the countywide .25 percent tax hike that pays for homeless services, because doing so would cause the sales tax rates in those cities to go above 10.25 percent, according to the CDTFA.

Then there’s the topic of Claremont businesses. No on CR signs can be seen in windows of businesses such as the Folk Music Center and the Hens’ Kitchen Shoppe, while businesses such as Sonja Stump Photography have Yes signs in their windows.

Ms. Lowe claims the No campaign walked the entire Village and “not one of [the merchants] agrees with the sales tax.”

Ms. Roach said there were businesses in town that support CR, but demurred when asked who they were.

“I would want to ask their permission before releasing their names,” she said. “I know it has been a very contentious issue.”

Ms. Lowe contends that some Claremont businesses were not part of the discussion about CR nor did they vote on it, and claimed Claremont Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Lopez “doesn’t have a finger on the pulse of his merchants.”

When reached Wednesday, Mr. Lopez said there was “never an agenda to approve,” of CR, rather there was a vetting and open discussion process before the Chamber’s board of directors endorsed CR on July 8.

“Nobody wants higher taxes, we’re all in agreement there,” he said. “But we felt in the statements we made it was important to continue the services, and the ability to support services, that make Claremont, Claremont.”

The city will hold a community meeting to discuss Measure CR on Saturday, October 19 at 10 a.m. at the Hughes Center’s Padua Room.

Election Day is November 5.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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