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23 Oct 2016

La Quinta Worries: The Candidates for Mayor and City Council Are Divided on a Proposed Sales-Tax Increase

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Mayoral candidates Linda Evans and Paula Maietta. Mayoral candidates Linda Evans and Paula Maietta.

As Election Day 2016 approaches, a heated debate among City Council candidates is disrupting the tranquility of La Quinta, the self-anointed “Gem of the Desert.”

One issue fueling the controversy is the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase known as Measure G, placed on this year’s ballot by unanimous vote of the City Council. Another issue: the proposed CV Link project.

The two mayoral candidates—incumbent Linda Evans and challenger Paula Maietta, a retail-marketing business specialist and 30-year La Quinta resident—have opposing views on just about all of the important issues.

Regarding Measure G, Evans told the Independent in a recent interview”: “I supported putting Measure G on the ballot, and I am in support of the need for that 1 percent increase. That’s largely due to the combination of how the expenses for things like police, fire, flood control, insurance and maintenance on capital improvements are rising versus the timing of when revenues will come in from development. … This additional sales tax is something that will be protected locally, and should yield about an additional $6 million per year, because that’s what our current 1 percent sales tax share is yielding right now.”

Maietta told the Independent she does not think the perceived budget challenges have been diagnosed correctly.

“First of all, we need a better picture of what really is happening (with our city revenues),” Maietta said. “These financial issues are not new issues.

“I just don’t think that this is a well-thought-out-measure. I think that the proper fiduciary role for the city is to make do with what they have. … They want this sales-tax increase to build up the reserve to $40 or $50 million, which was the amount before the (Redevelopment Agency) was dissolved. Well, we’re not a savings and loan. We’re a city.”

Not surprisingly, this divide carries into the group of five candidates vying for two open seats on the City Council. Candidates Kristy Franklin (the only incumbent City Council member running for re-election; pictured upper right), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (a member of the La Quinta Planning Commission, right), Steve Sanchez (a Marine Corps veteran and businessman) and Victoria Llort (a business woman and vice president of the local nonprofit American Outreach Foundation) all support Measure G.

“The city is just like any other business: money in, and money out,” Franklin said in a recent interview. “You can’t spend what you don’t have—or you shouldn’t, let’s put it that way. So Measure G is something that (the current City Council) wasn’t casual about at all. We did our homework, and then we put together an advisory committee by asking for volunteers from the community, and 14 people said yes.”

Sanchez told us he supports the measure because the state and county won’t be able to get their hands on that money: “That 1 percent, no one can take that. I’m going to vote for it because I want to maintain that quality of life that we’re used to.”

Sanchez (right, slightly below) did have one misgiving, though: “I do wish that there was a sunset date on it so that maybe eight to 10 years from now, the residents would vote again on it.”

Llort pointed out that only 1 percent of the current 8 percent sales tax stays in La Quinta. “This (1 percent increase) would give the city 2 percent. Now, it is unappropriated, so it is a general tax. When and if the voters approve it, I would like to see a citizen oversight committee really monitor the money that goes into the general fund and make sure that it’s spent appropriately and that the rising expenses for police and fire and infrastructure are addressed.”

Fitzpatrick offered a dire view of the consequences of a vote against Measure G. “I hope that it passes, and I’ll tell you from being out there walking in the precincts that I think it’s at about 50-50 right now,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’re really going to have to look at full cost recovery on fees and making some changes in the programs and services that we offer. We have a lot of fees that we subsidize for some of our programs in the Wellness Center, for instance. … We’ll look at our sports programs as well.”

Only Joseph Johnson, a retired investigator for the city of Los Angeles, sides with Maietta in questioning whether there is a pressing need to increase the sales tax.

“I don’t believe that right now, this (Measure G) is the thing to do,” Johnson told us. “If we increase the sales tax on our local businesses, we’re going to have more people not buying here, and that’s going to hurt our businesses even more.”

Johnson (right, slightly below) took issue with the 14-person advisory committee that suggested the Measure G strategy: “If you read this 14-person advisory report, it says right there that they are not taking into consideration any increase in sales tax at all.

“That means the money we’re going to get from Costco—there’s a (revenue) share split that we’ve been giving them for years on sales tax that expires in April, and that’s going to be about half a million dollars in extra revenue for the city, and that was not considered in this report. Also, we have a deal with Hobby Lobby’s landlord … for a few years … but after that, it will bring another $200,000 to $300,000 a year in extra revenue, which is not considered in that report. We’re getting a TJ Maxx and Ulta, and that’s not considered in that report. Plus there’s normal inflation.”

Regarding the valley-wide debate on the CV Link project, most of the candidates are taking a “wait and see” stance in anticipation of the environmental impact report’s impending release, sometime before the end of the year. Here’s a quick rundown of each candidate’s perspective:

Evans: “When we created the Adams Street bridge overpass, we already engineered an underneath ramp that goes below the street so that you can continue on that levee without having to cross the road. We are in the planning stages to do a bridge at Dune Palms as well. So we’re a little bit ahead of the game, in my opinion. We’ll see if it’s completely cost-prohibitive to even consider. … But the concept of what it can represent for our valley, I definitely support.”

Maietta: “I’m not against the CV Link. Certainly, I’m in support of things that get people out of the house and doing healthy things—but this is a boondoggle. Nobody even has any idea of how much it’s going to cost yet. They don’t know who’s going to maintain it, and they don’t know what the maintenance costs are. Who’s going to police it? … It’s not done yet, but as it stands right now, I can’t support it.”

Franklin: “CV Link is not a priority for me, and that’s because we don’t know how much it’s going to cost to maintain it. We’re asking for a sales-tax increase, so to ask the citizens to pay for something from now into perpetuity when we haven’t a clue what the cost is going to be, I can’t buy that. My gut reaction to this is that it’s being pushed down our throats, and I don’t like that.”

Sanchez: “In theory, I think it’s a great project. But when it first came up, I was 100 percent against it for many reasons. The costs were uncertain. Without knowing things like what the ongoing maintenance is … I need to find out what all of that is before I can make a final decision on it. The information that is out right now has changed my mind from 100 percent against to being on the fence.”

Llort (right): “We don’t know what the CV Link is going to cost. That being said, I am in support of the 2-3 mile portion that would go through La Quinta. It is placed very conveniently along the wash right behind one of the business strips along 111, but also right behind the high school. The portion of CV Link that goes through La Quinta is to be built on land not owned by the city, but by the CVWD. … I reserve the right to analyze and study everything diligently to make sure that it’s still in the best interests of La Quinta.”

Fitzpatrick: “I’m conditionally supportive of the CV Link, but we need to see the EIR. That being said, I think that it’s a project that would generate tourism. We built several bike-path kind of facilities when I worked with … Los Angeles. Those kinds of projects always bring tourists and always bring users and always prove a tremendous benefit, especially in La Quinta, where our brand is health and wellness.”

Johnson: “In general, a bike path running all the way from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea is not a bad idea. But … it’s the most ugly path you’ll ever see. They show pictures of people walking their dogs along this thing, but do you think walking dogs on concrete when it’s 120 degrees out is practical? No, it’s not. … As for funding, they say that tourism is going to increase so much that one proposal is to take any increases in (each city’s) hotel tax and use that to fund this project. That’s problematic, because when the cities need money, that’s one of the few sources of revenue that they have.”

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