WALNUT CREEK -- Perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that a half-cent sales tax hike would never be placed on the November ballot by the current City Council.
Anyone watching the council members debate the issue over the past six months should not be surprised that, on Tuesday, a motion to put such a tax measure on the ballot failed for lack of the necessary super majority -- four out of five council members would have had to support it.
Once again, Mayor Kristina Lawson and Councilman Justin Wedel said they were against raising the sales tax -- and this time voted down putting such a measure on the ballot. This was after their colleagues and residents pleaded with the pair to allow the people a chance to decide for themselves whether or not to increase taxes.
"Residents elected council members to be broader in thinking than this; (the) council should represent the people, but let the people opine on measures like this," said Joe Warren, a 29-year resident.
Drafted by the city attorney, the measure would have asked residents to vote yes or no on a general half-cent sales tax to help maintain and provide police services, roads, arts and recreation programs, senior and youth programs, open space, parks and pools and fund library services.
Supporters of such a tax measure say structural deficits -- around $3 to $4 million a year -- are projected in the budget for the foreseeable future. Such a tax increase would have brought in between $7 and $8 million a year.
Lawson said the fact some want to raise taxes and bring in far more than needed is just one reason she still does not support the tax, or putting it on the ballot. In a series of comments -- many pointed at her council colleagues -- Lawson blasted the idea of the tax, saying it would have the most effect on the lowest-income residents. She criticized suggestions that people in Walnut Creek wouldn't even realize the sales tax was raised, saying that wasn't a reason to do something, Raising taxes, she stressed, should be the last resort.
"Frankly, I don't see that we have a dire or critical need for additional revenue," she said. "My placement of the measure on the ballot would signify that proposal has merit and I don't believe this proposal has merit. I will not signal to my community that this is a good idea when I don't believe it is."
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Simmons shot back that he disagreed with many of Lawson's characterizations, saying they were not based in reality. Many of her comments reflected her opposition to the tax, Simmons said, but not the people's right to vote.
And Councilwoman Loella Haskew commented that people around the world fight for the right to vote, and seemed to compare Wedel's and Lawson's stance on this issue to the "tyranny of the oppressors."
Residents could organize an initiative petition drive to get their own half-cent sales tax measure on the ballot. That would require more than 4,000 signatures to force the council to put it up for election in November.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.