- Measure J: Humboldt County Lodging Alliance Express Outrage Over ‘Misleading’ Transient Occupancy Tax Hike
Members of Humboldt County’s arts and culture sector are hopeful that a proposed tourism tax hike would give local artists a much-needed boost after taking a hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Measure J seeks to increase the transient occupancy tax (TOT) rate in the county’s unincorporated areas from 10 percent to 12 percent while also making the tax applicable to overnight RV parks and private campgrounds.
If passed, the total TOT would generate nearly $3.1 million annually to fund general county services, such as emergency response, children’s mental health, county road repairs, emergency communications systems, job training, as well as theater and public arts.
Leslie Castellano, Eureka city council representative and executive director of Ink People Center for the Arts, is hopeful that the ballot measure would capture and invest funds that would otherwise leave the area back into the local economy.
“Agencies and organizations at all levels throughout Humboldt County have become more dependent on grants for funding, and these are unpredictable at best,” she told the Outpost. “Through local tax initiatives, we are able to create more stable opportunities for people who live here, and there is more possibility for public input about how funds get spent. …Additionally, the tax can be used to support arts and culture initiatives and provide opportunities for sustainable and creative ways to foster collective well-being.”
The arts and culture sector was hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, Castellano added. The proposed tax hike could present the community with a unique opportunity to support local artists as well as “restore the sense of cultural vitality and well-being that was quieted over the past two years.”
“We are expecting record seasons of tourism in the upcoming years,” she said. “Data has shown that our region is more desirable to travelers after the pandemic because people are seeking places with wide-open outdoor spaces and unique cultural experiences. We are rich in both of those. This is another reason why it makes sense to invest in the arts. People extend their vacations and plan return trips based on the experiences they have while traveling.”
Julie Benbow, executive director of the Humboldt County Visitor’s Bureau, said investing tourism revenue into the arts “is a win-win for residents and visitors.”
“The Bureau is a staunch supporter and promoters of the rich arts and cultural offerings in Humboldt County and visitors love the opportunity to enjoy everything from the murals to theatre and the cultural events,” she said.
Opponents of the measure, including many local hoteliers and members of the Humboldt Lodging Alliance (HLA), worry that it is too soon to enact a tax hike since the tourism industry is just beginning to rebound from the pandemic. Members of the hospitality industry have also raised concerns about how the additional TOT revenue would be spent. (You can read more about the opponents’ perspective here.)
Julie Fulkerson, local business owner and co-producer of the Trinidad Bay Arts and Music Festival, disputed this claim and argued that “coming out of COVID is a good time to initiate the tax.”
“We have not traveled that much for two years and people are eager to go to their favorite places,” Fulkerson told the Outpost. “…People are on the move. The only people who pay the tax are travelers. It is a way to support the services and benefits of this region when people visit here. I pay this tax when I go to Mendocino, Manhattan or Santa Barbara. I expect to and do not complain.”
She added that the visitors pay the tax, not the hotel and motel owners. “They make it sound like it is a burden to them. It is a pass-through to benefit the entire region.”
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the creation of a TOT workgroup last month to oversee how the funds are spent in an attempt to quell concerns from the HLA.
“I do understand the hoteliers’ desire for the tax monies to benefit cultural activities rather than get lost in the general fund,” Castellano said. “I do think the stakeholder group will help provide more public input into how the funds are spent, and I think it is critical that artists and culture workers have a seat at the table within the workgroup.”
Measure J will appear on the June 7 ballot. More information on the ballot initiative can be found here.