Long Beach needs a new influx of cash to pay for the seismic retrofit and reopening of Community Hospital — along with public safety and infrastructure upgrades — so the city is hoping voters will approve a tax extension to make that happen.
The City Council is scheduled to vote at its Tuesday, July 2, meeting on whether to place an indefinite extension of the Measure A sales tax on the March 3, 2020, ballot — and Mayor Robert Garcia, for his part, has already expressed his full support for the idea.
Measure A, which voters approved in 2016, increased the city’s sales tax over 10 years to pay for public safety and infrastructure improvements.
If the City Council decides to move forward with a new ballot measure, Long Beach’s sales tax would remain at its current level of 10.25% until voters decide to repeal it.
While arguing in favor of the concept in a Monday, June 24, interview, Garcia said Long Beach’s sales tax is likely to remain at 10.25% whether this measure goes forward or not.
Garcia said Los Angeles County or the South Coast Air Quality Management District likely will propose sales tax hikes for their own projects that would keep the Long Beach rate at the state limit of 10.25%. The only difference with this measure, he said, is that the money would stay in Long Beach. Taxes already in place take precedence over new taxes.
Garcia also said that he endorses the measure because research has shown that voters do.
He came to that conclusion because Long Beach contracted with the Los Angeles polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates to gauge public opinion on the proposal. Their research found that 68% or more Long Beach voters would support renewing Measure A, even after being given “negative messages” about the concept.
“As a social scientist and someone that does this, I know how these things work,” he said. “They’re very accurate, almost to the number.
“Had staff come back and said, ‘Hey, 50% of the public, or 55% of the public support an extension,' I think we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Garcia added. “This is an overwhelming show of support.”
Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said that if the City Council does not approve the ballot measure — or if voters ultimately reject it — Long Beach will be forced to make cuts to public safety and other services.
Money from Measure A has been used to maintain and increase police and fire positions, including restoration of Rescue 12 and Fire Engine 8, as well as maintaining another 108 positions. If Measure A goes away, there is no current way to pay for those positions.
Modica said that cuts also would be necessary because the City Council voted in March to commit up to $25 million over 15 years toward Community Hospital’s required seismic retrofit, but the panel did not decide where that money would come from.
“Honestly, we don’t have a plan on how to pay for that,” Modica said. “Unless we have additional revenue or something else, there’s going to be another service that gets cut in order to make room for that investment.”
In order to place the measure on the ballot, the City Council will first have to declare a fiscal emergency. Garcia said he believes that move would be warranted because the impacts of Community Hospital’s closure on the rest of the city have reached emergency levels.
Data compiled by the city shows that ambulance response times have increased by 10% since the facility shut down last July. Long Beach Fire Chief Xavier Espino said shuttling people to other hospitals also has had a significant impact on his team, taking engines out of their designated areas and tying up firefighters at hospitals that are facing longer wait times.
“We don’t want to be in a position where ambulance response times are going up,” Garcia said, “and that’s happening clearly because Community Hospital closed.”