Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 11, 2018
Last Tuesday, the voters of Irvine overwhelmingly passed Measure C. The measure will require a 2/3rds majority on its City Council to place a new tax on a ballot for voter approval. Measure C was the only one of three measures to be approved by voters in Irvine last week, with Measures B and D failing. The final vote count is 76.6% yes and 23.4% no.
The measure was supported by a majority of the Council, the Irvine Taxpayers Association, the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce, and the Orange County Taxpayers Association, which lobbied to have it placed on the ballot.
Measure C was placed on the ballot back in February with a Council vote of 3-5. Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Melissa Fox voted against placing it on the ballot.
Councilman Lalloway wanted to hold off until November, fearing that its fate might get conflated with Measures B and D which proved unpopular with voters.
Councilmember Fox argued that a 2/3rds requirement could prove difficult during hard fiscal times for the city when new revenue needs to be generated quickly. She also points out that since the taxes need to be approved by voters, a 2/3rds requirement will hinder residents being able to weigh in.
“We will not always be in the same situation that we are in now,” said Fox in her comments before the vote.
“I want to respect the ability of the residents of the future and the councils of the future to vote in a majority [for a new tax].”
Mayor Don Wagner proposed the measure and agrees with Councilmember Fox about one thing.
“Ms. Fox is right, this will make it harder to raise taxes in the future. That is exactly its point. Is that a valid criticism? No, that is the strength of the measure.”
Councilmember Lalloway, a Republican, emphasizes that if the Measure had been placed on the November ballot (when he will be up for re-election) he would have supported it unequivocally: “We should not look to raise the taxes of our residents. Ever. There’s plenty of revenue and when there are tough times the city needs to tighten its belt and not try to raise taxes. We also have a contingency reserve that can be used in tough times. That’s what it’s for.”
Carolyn Cavecche is the C.E.O. of the Orange County Taxpayers Association and was Mayor of the City of Orange during the ‘08 financial collapse. She remembers hard times when the city was hemorrhaging revenue. Ultimately, she believes that if a city is in great enough need for new revenue they should have no problem getting 4 councilmembers to sign off on it.
“If a tax is really needed, than four [councilmembers] are going to be in favor of it.”
Currently, all “general law” cities require a 2/3rds majority for new taxes to be proposed. General law cities run on state laws while “charter cities” have a charter which establishes laws unique to their city. Of the 10 charter cities in Orange County, 4 have now passed charter amendments that establish a 2/3rds requirement. Along with Irvine, these cities include Anaheim, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach.
“We are one of the few cities in California that doesn’t have this protection and it was my thought that we ought to have it,” says Mayor Wagner, who proposed the measure.
The 2/3rds requirement went into effect when voters passed Proposition 62 back in 1986. Orange County overwhelmingly voted yes on 62, with around 67% of votes in favor. The law extended this requirement to General Law cities alone, hence the current push to pass amendments in charter cities.
While the Orange County Register’s assertion that there was no “organized opposition” to this measure seems largely true, the group Irvine for Responsible Growth did oppose the measure. Most of their efforts were focused on successfully defeating Measures B and D, but Janis Morris, an organizer with the group, penned an op-ed for their website arguing against its passing titled “I JUST DON’T ‘C’ IT.”
According to the City Clerk’s office, “No direct argument against the proposed measure was filed.” Morris says that she inquired about submitting a rebuttal to the argument in favor, but was unable to because no argument against (the first step in the process) was submitted before the deadline.
She draws attention to the subtle math of a 2/3rds requirement in a five person legislative body: “We pass everything on a majority of 3 votes out of 5. That’s 60%. “C” in reality will require 4 of 5 votes, or 80%.”
“We can declare war with a smaller percentage,” Morris dryly asserts.
But Cavecche finds this argument facile: “That’s just math.”
“We could have said 4/5ths but the reason we don’t is because one, 2/3rds is the general term you use (at the state level) and [two], we don’t know that Irvine is going to stay at a 5 person council. The city of Anaheim just went from being a 5 person council to a 7 person council.”
“2/3rds is just the standard that is used.”
Cavecche points out that Californians are leaving for other states with lower taxes and this measure is meant to curb that problem.
“The burden to live in California is huge.”
Cavecche couldn’t point to an example of a tax proposed in Orange where the 2/3rds requirement (Orange is a general law City) had a critical effect but she did point to an instance in Westminster in 2016.
Westminster was in hard fiscal times and was relying on cuts and its reserves to stay afloat. Councilmember Margie Rice proposed a new sales tax to place before the voters. Because his vote was critical to secure a 2/3rds majority, Mayor Tri Ta was able to secure a 6-year limit on the tax. Cavecche believes it’s highly likely that with only a 3 member threshold, the Council would have likely sent a tax to the voters that would have been in perpetuity.
“There are councils where it’s hard to get the 2/3rds threshold and I [do not] think that’s a bad thing.”
Mayor Wagner acknowledges that the amendment’s effects are meant to be long term.
“This isn’t to fix a problem, this is to stop a problem from happening in the future.”
Morris has a different reading.
“This is clearly a solution in search of a problem.”