On Tuesday evening, the Eureka City Council unanimously voted to place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve a 1.25 percent sales tax to fund city services, and decided not to take a stance against the rebuilding of a toppled billboard along highway 101.
Billboard on Highway 101
The council was poised to approve a letter to the Board of Supervisors supporting the County Planning Commission’s decision to deny a permit that would allow Eureka’s AllPoints Signs Company to rebuild a billboard on the south end of town that was severely damaged during a storm last winter.
But after a request to remove the item from the consent calendar for deliberation, the council ultimately voted to dismiss the letter and not take any collective stance on the matter.
Geoff Wills, Owner of Allpoints Signs, called into the meeting to speak against any letter of support from the council, saying that he was shocked that the council would even consider taking a stance on a structure that is not even in the city limits.
“I’m absolutely blown away that the city of Eureka would advocate or find any position on something that is outside of their jurisdiction against one of their own businesses,” Wills said during the meeting.
Wills argued that his company’s plan to rebuild the billboard is allowed within county zoning and building code.
“For the City of Eureka to take a stance on this it just puts a really, really bad taste in my mouth for our council members to do this against me and my business,” Wills said.
Several council members expressed a concern for the decision to send a letter of support on a county decision, something they rarely do.
Councilmember Natalie Arroyo said that although she does not care for the billboards on Highway 101, both for aesthetic and safety reasons, she did not feel the council as a whole should take a position on this matter.
“It doesn’t really have to do with the merits of the project,” Arroyo said. “I’d just rather we not go there.”
Councilmember Austin Allison said that many constituents had reached out to him asking the council draft a letter supporting the county planning commission’s decision. Even so, Allison felt that it would be more appropriate for council members to reach out the the Board of Supervisors on an individual basis.
Allison made a motion to dismiss the letter, which was seconded by council member Bergel and passed unanimously.
Sales Tax Measure
The Council also voted unanimously to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve a 1.25 percent supplemental transaction and use tax (STUT) to be used toward maintaining city programs and services.
Public Works Director Brian Gerving gave a presentation about the measure to the council, highlighting the need for a sales tax increase to help mitigate the city’s declining general fund revenue.
If passed, the measure would extend and raise the city’s current half-percent sales tax — approved by passage of Measure O in 2010 and extended by the passage of Measure Q in 2014 — which sunsets in June of next year.
Councilmember Heidi Messner said that one of the biggest concerns she’s heard from the public about the draft measure is its lack of a sunset date. Gerving addressed this issue at Messner’s request.
“It is true that there is no finite time limit and that is because there is no foreseeable time when there will not be a need for this additional amount of money,” Gerving replied. “The fiscal picture for cities has changed fundamentally, and more and more cities are having to develop measures like this to make sure they have local funding.”
If at some point members of the public felt that the tax was no longer needed, either voters or the council would have the opportunity every two years to draft a measure repealing the sales tax, Gerving added.
Gerving also addressed the amount of the increase, saying that 1.25 percent in sales tax (an additional three quarters of a percent on what is already paid) is the minimum amount staff felt was needed to help get the city through this fiscal emergency. One percent is needed to help with the existing deficit and the other quarter of a percent would go towards road repair and maintenance.
“It’s not like the city will be swimming in cash or able to pay for a bunch of new services,” Gerving said. “Just to build back to reasonable reserves will really take quite some time.”
Diversity and Inclusion Program
In other business, Eureka Human Resources Director Will Folger provided the council with an update on the city’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which aims to address the need for racial diversity, equity and inclusion in city programs and services.
Folger said that staff has held several meetings with hired consultant Fogbreak — a Berkeley-based agency that provides education and training on racial justice — and has developed a four-phase program to implement the plan. The first phase will primarily consist of “information gathering,” Folger said, holding meetings with various stakeholder groups in the community.
The first meeting will be on August 10, Folger said, with another to follow the next day. Folger will also provide another update on the plan at the next Eureka City Council meeting on August 4, he said.
Folger encouraged members of the public to reach out to the city to talk about their experience and to help identify groups and individuals to take part in the planning process. “Help craft what this looks like,” he said. “This is an interpretive process.”