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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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It's time to revisit the TOT and Even Year Elections

Uploaded: Jan 6, 2013
The TOT is the Transit Occupancy Tax which is added to hotel and motel room charges. San Ramon's TOT is only 7.25 percent , which is .75 percent lower than Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore's, but .75 percent higher than Danville's.

The City Council put Measure U, on the ballot in 2004 to raise the TOT from 7.25% to 10% in small increments over four years. The justification was that this tax would not affect most residents, because people staying in hotels don't live here and are usually business travelers here for meetings in Bishop Ranch.

This seemed like a reasonable assumption, but some residents, like Paul Mitchell, who has since moved to Oregon, opposed the tax because he had relatives who visited and stayed in the hotels. Still there didn't appear to be much public opposition to Measure U, but it failed 48.6 percent to 51.4 percent . Maybe it was just an anti-tax vote or maybe it was because the increase was too much and would put San Ramon's TOT 2 percent higher than our neighboring cities.

The plan to increase the tax a little bit each year over four years also seemed unduly complicated. And the city wanted .75% of the requested 2.75 percent increase to go to economic development.

Jim Blickenstaff was on the Open Space Committee back then and asked the Council to consider setting aside some or all of the increase to purchase of land along the City's Urban Growth Boundaries to maintain a greenbelt around the city. This was not received with enthusiasm by the City Council at the time.

According to the Arguments for Measure U on Smart Voter.org, the increased revenue would go " . . . to pay for vital City services such as police protection, park maintenance, senior center, recreation programs and street maintenance. Additional funding for these services is vital to maintaining the high quality of life San Ramon residents expect. It will also help offset the five million dollars in annual sales tax revenue the City lost during the recession, and nearly two million more City property tax dollars the State plans to divert because of its own deficit." That was 2004, but we are now in a similar position with revenues down and a multi-million dollar deficit in our budget.

In fact the City Council is holding another Budget Workshop this Tuesday afternoon at 5:00 pm. I didn't attend the last one about a month ago, but I plan to attend this one and bring up the TOT again if it isn't already being considered.

Instead of trying to jump from 7.25 percent to 10 percent, cut the increased rate to a more reasonable 8.5 percent. This could be raised in one year instead of four, and could add another $235,000-$250,000 to the General Fund each year.

Another cost-saving measure to reconsider would be moving to even year elections. This has been voted on three times in the last ten years. In 2002 the "Gang of Three," put [Measure H http://www.smartvoter.org/2002/11/05/ca/cc/meas/H/ on the ballot.

Measure H is titled "Change Election Year and Extend Council Terms -- City of San Ramon." The reason the title includes "extend Council Terms," is because I named it. The 2002 City Council did not put a name on it, so I sent my name to Smart Voter and low and behold they used it. That may have been one of the reasons it was defeated 46% to 54%.

The City was as politically divided in 2002 as Congress is today, and a large number of residents did not want to see the "Gang of Three," get an extra year in office to spend and waste more money. In fact the drop in City Reserves from the Gang's wasteful spending during the dot-com recession of 2002-2003, prompted Measure U to increase the TOT in 2004.

Some of the original City Founders prefer keeping the elections in odd years to avoid the "noise" of National and State-wide elections. Mary Lou Oliver, who regularly reads my blog, shortened her term one year to move to odd years so voters would have fewer distractions. I hope ML will add her recollections about it to this blog.

However, some residents still wanted to move to even year elections because this could save the City considerable expense by sharing the cost of printing and mailing ballots and election materials. So in 2004 the City Council put an advisory measure on the ballot to see how many residents wanted to go to even years without adding any method on how to do it. Measure V – Elections in Even Years, passed by 51.4% to 48.6%.

Melody Lundgren, who was a supporter of Measure H, and Scott Miller and I, who opposed Measure H, spoke at a City Council meeting to request switching to even years by shortening terms, or at least giving voters the option to choose how. The Council did nothing about it for another four years.

In 2008, at the end of one of the Council meetings, Councilmember Dave Hudson brought up going to Even Year elections again. This time he said "I wouldn't even consider shortening terms."

Carol Rowley and Dave Hudson were on the Policy Committee, and I attended that meeting wearing my No on Measure H t-shirt which Councilmember Rowley designed to oppose term extensions for the "Gang of Three," in 2002. Carol said it isn't the same, "We're better than they were." Not the right answer as far as I was concerned, even if it was fiscally true.

I posted a video of Dave Hudson on my San Ramon Observer website saying he would only consider lengthening terms. I wrote the No on Measure Q ballot statement. Former Mayor Curt Kinney and his wife Jeanne signed it. Measure Q failed to pass, but by a closer margin, 49.66% to 50.34%.

Last November, Livermore, the other Tri-Valley city to hold odd year elections, voted to change to even years by lengthening the terms of all sitting councilmembers. The Livermore City Council give their voters a choice of going to even years right away by lengthening terms, or adding a year onto the terms of the Mayor and Councilmembers elected in the next two elections. The cost savings of switching right away won the day and Livermore will start holding even year elections in 2014.

You may have noticed that San Ramon's measure in 2008 only added a year to the Mayor's term. That's because the elected Mayor was added in 2001 in Measure K. This was overwhelmingly popular, with a vote of 76% to 24%.

This measure added the following conditions to San Ramon's Charter:
Shall Articles II and III of the City of San Ramon Charter be amended:

a) to provide direct election of the Mayor to a two-year term commencing in 2003,
b) to establish term limits of four two-year terms or eight years total,
c) to prescribe the duties of the Mayor as those existing on June 1, 2001, and
d) to set the Mayor's compensation at $100 per month more than that of a Councilmember.

Since the Mayor would serve a two year term starting in an odd year, that meant all Mayoral elections had to be every two years from 2003. So that's the situation we are in now.

The Council can change their election year any time they want to, but the Mayor's term can only be changed in a Charter Amendment which must be voted on.

At this point I'd like to see that done this year. Hudson and Livingstone are up for reelection this year, as is Mayor Clarkson. The Mayor's term could be lengthened or shortened in one measure or each option could be offered in two measures to see which one voters choose.

Maybe I should just give in and say the heck with it, go ahead and lengthen terms. We've been fighting over this too long, and there will be new candidates running this fall and voters can choose which ones they want to see on the dais a year longer.

Comments

Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Well, Roz, you knew I'd have to put my two cents worth in here. I will always disagree about the even year elections, but I know I'm beating a broken drum. Our general elections have become so excessive and convoluted with candidates, measures, and propositions that the city council election would be completely lost in the process. Sure, that favors the incumbents, so incumbents would be likely to support it. Local issues are lost in the morass of statewide and national issues.

You are correct that the first city council voted to shorten their terms, not once but twice. The first election for the council and incorporation took place in March of '83. It was decided that the two highest vote-getters would receive 4 year terms, and the third, fourth, and fifth, would get two year terms. That would stagger the terms. There were 18 candidates. The council, to save $$$ decided that we would change the elections to align our election with the school district in odd years, but it would take two steps. I won't go into the legal reasons for doing that, but it was the correct thing to do at the time. The second election was in April of '84, and the third election was in November of '85. That set the stage for continuing with odd year elections along with the School District elections. (Alas, the school district shortly thereafter switched to even years.) As a result of the change, my first term of 2 years was reduced by a year, and my first 4 year term was reduced to three years. I was elected for two more terms after that.

MLO


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Thank you, ML

I was surprised that the TOT increase didn't go over as well as I expected at the Budget Workshop this afternoon, but now that Livermore switched to even year elections it looks like the time has come for us to do it too.

Roz


Posted by ?, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm

"In fact the City Council is holding another Budget Workshop this Tuesday afternoon at 5:00 pm. I didn't attend the last one about a month ago, but I plan to attend this one and bring up the TOT again if it isn't already being considered.

Instead of trying to jump from 7.25 percent to 10 percent, cut the increased rate to a more reasonable 8.5 percent. This could be raised in one year instead of four, and could add another $235,000-$250,000 to the General Fund each year.

Another cost-saving measure to reconsider would be moving to even year elections. This has been voted on three times in the last ten years. In 2002 the "Gang of Three," put [Measure H Web Link on the ballot."

Roz, I just want to point out that there is no "Another cost-saving measure to reconsider." One is a cost savings and the other is a tax increase.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 9, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Resident,

Yes you are correct. Raising the Transit Occupancy Tax would be a tax increase. The Budget deficit must be addressed by a combination of cost reductions and increased revenues.

I was surprised the City Council wasn't more receptive to increasing the TOT at their Budget Workshop. Instead they are considering a 1/2 cent sales tax, which could bring in four or five times what a 1.25% increase to the TOT would. However, I believe it would be easier to pass a measure increasing the TOT than adding a sales tax.

The Council will hold another Budget Workshop on 1/22 in which they will go through all possible cuts and mark Yes they would do it or No they would not. Then the list could be reduced by those that wouldn't get the votes to pass.

After the list is cut down, the City Council will hold public workshops for residents to offer their (your) ideas and preferences.


Posted by Dirka_dirka, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 12, 2013 at 10:43 pm

The Dirka thinks Roz has serverd her community well and with dignity, even if he does not agree with her politics. Tots will not affect business travel if they are reasonable. Business is always about productivity and if staying in SR is more productive, the traveler will pay a premium. But just because you can get it, does not always make it good business. This is the problem with politicians who have not been business people. There is an economic reality equation to every tax and sometimes it backfires. We do not have many hotels in San Ramon. Until the economy turns around, we should look elsewhere. The city council is full of a bunch of retreads who could milk a goat that had not been milked in a week.
Dirka is cold and so are his goats. Very little milk tonight with this cold weather.


Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on Jan 13, 2013 at 5:07 am

Hi Roz,

One clarification on your recollection of my opposition to the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT): my main objection was not because I have a disabled relative who had to stay in a hotel to visit us and pay a TOT (that was my supporting argument). My main objection was imposition of a tax on people who have no vote on the creation of the tax or the amount of the tax. I suppose I could call it the "taxation without representation" argument. I am philosophically opposed to that TOT tax system being applied in communities nationwide. If San Ramon residents need to fund city services, then San Ramon residents should fund those services from their own pockets and not use the power of government to force hotel business to be their collection agents. If I recall correctly there was commentary at the time (Bob P.'s wife?) that Pacific Bell was booking hotels for their employee visitors based on the size of room rates AND hotel TOTs; that's how closely Pac Bell was watching their travel costs during that 2002-2003 recession. So arguing businesses don't care about paying a higher TOT may not be true. You may recall I was always for abolition of the TOT, not making it the same as other Tri-Valley cities. I realize that will happen the same year pigs fly, but one can always hope...


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Thanks for chiming in Paul. I didn't remember that this was a disabled relative who needed to stay in a hotel. I did remember that you always opposed the TOT, but I didn't remember why. Your argument for abolishing the TOT is a good one.

The TOT fits the old rhyme, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree." Maybe TOT should stand for "Tax on Tree" fellows.


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