VALLEJO – Vallejo residents distrust their city government so much that a 0.875 cent sales tax hike to pay for infrastructure repair is likely to fail, a polling firm reported during a special Vallejo City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Undeterred, the council voted 4-2 to direct staff to return next month with a formal proposal to place a general tax measure on the November ballot. Mayor Robert McConnell and Councilmember Cristina Arriola, District 6, were opposed. Councilmember Hakeem Brown, at large, was absent.
Funds from a general tax would be deposited in the city’s general fund and could be spent for any purpose. It would require a simple majority of city voters, 50% plus one, to pass, while a special tax that would dedicate funds exclusively for a certain purpose like street repair would require approval by two-thirds of voters.
The council also voted 6-0 to direct staff to place a second non-binding measure on the ballot asking residents how they would like to see the tax money spent.
City hall hired the polling firm Fairbank Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) to ask more than 500 likely voters about their views of life in the city and whether they would support a sales tax hike.
FM3’s Chief Operating Officer Curtis Below said the data showed that a special tax measure was not viable, while a general tax with a simple majority vote would also likely fail.
McConnell said the numbers were “very sobering.”
The mayor said he’d support going for the more risky special tax.
“I think the citizens are fed up enough, where if they want to have their roads repaired, they need to put their money where their mouth is or henceforth, forever remain silent,” McConnell said.
McConnell said he had also had concerns that Solano County may place a competing sales tax on the November ballot to pay for wildfire safety protection.
Vallejo placed a general sales tax measure on the ballot during the November 2020 election. That measure, called Measure G, barely failed as 50.57% of voters rejected the proposed tax hike, which the city said would have been spent on “retention of jobs and businesses, fire services, emergency response, crime prevention, youth services, homelessness services, law enforcement training, transparency and accountability, and public safety and maintenance.”
At Large Councilmember Pippin Dew said she supported Measure G and expressed support for a general tax for the upcoming November ballot. Dew said the entire council needed to show support for the hike or it would face an uphill climb.
“The results from the polling show that unless all of us are on the same page together it’s probably not going to be successful,” Dew said. “I know we have to try. We have certain things we have to deliver to this community and if we don’t do every effort to accomplish those needs, then what are we doing as leaders?”
Fellow Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3, who didn’t support Measure G in 2020, said she supports a tax hike this time.
“The public had the measure fail because they didn’t trust how it was written,” Loera-Diaz said about Measure G.
Loera-Diaz said she wants to see an oversight body established to track and audit the estimated $18 million the tax increase would generate yearly.
“I am in favor of it but with a lot of restrictions, and oversight, and transparency, and education for the community I think we can get this passed,” she said, adding that Vallejo is “not a rich city. We don’t have a lot of money, so where is this money supposed to come from?”
City Manager Mike Malone rejected a suggestion that the council place two competing tax measures on the ballot.
“We don’t think that’s going to help our chances of success,” Malone told the council. “Bringing this tax initiative forward to council is not something that we took lightly.”
“We also realized that we couldn’t, even with the polling results, wait until 2024 to see if things were going to get better,” Malone added. “The money isn’t going to come to the coffers automatically.”
Below, the pollster, said that local voters see a need for funding but have misgivings about city hall. About 60% of residents who were surveyed said they had an unfavorable opinion of the city council while 67% said they had an unfavorable opinion of the city government overall.
In a 2018 survey, 34% of residents said they had a favorable view of the city government. That number dropped to just 14% in the latest poll.
Poll respondents identified homelessness as the biggest problem facing Vallejo, with 80% saying it was either an extremely serious problem or a very serious problem. Crime and public dumping were top issues as well with 79% saying it was either an extremely serious problem or a very serious problem.
Below said a unique situation happened when participants were asked about whether they supported a special tax for road repairs. Initially, 69% of participants said they would support such a measure, well above the two-thirds threshold, but that dropped to 66% when a hypothetical positive statement about the special tax was read to the participants. Finally, that number dropped to 47% when the negative statement was read to participants.
“I don’t normally see drops like this,” Below told the council.
Of those surveyed, 44% said Vallejo was currently headed in the wrong direction with just 11% saying the city was going in the right direction, while 45% said there had been no change. This was down from 2019 in which 40% said the city was going in the right direction, while 28% reported that Vallejo was headed in the wrong direction.
City leaders said the proposed tax measure would be spent fixing aging roads and city buildings.
Assistant City Manager Terrance Davis said that the city’s roads currently rank as ‘poor’ on the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) which measures the status of road conditions on a scale from 0 to 100.
Vallejo’s average PCI is 48. Davis said the city spends about $4 million each year on roads but at that current rate of funding the city’s average PCI is estimated to fall to 39 by 2026. Davis said Vallejo would need to spend $30 million to keep the PCI at its current level and if the city spent $45 million annually the average PCI would increase to 53 by 2026.
Davis said that if the city spent $361 million the first year, and $90 million the next couple of fiscal years then the city’s average PCI would be at 84 by 2026. Davis said the city is projecting having $628 million in deferred road maintenance by 2026.
“We just don’t invest to the level needed to eat into that deferred maintenance,” he said.
He also presented a facility condition index which showed that certain buildings in the city require extensive repair and renewal. Davis said that the Vallejo Police Department building at 111 Amador St. is 49.1% on the scale. Anything at or below about 30% “has reached the end of its useful or serviceable life.”
Vallejo City Hall, built in the early 1970s, is listed at 30.1% on the facilities scale, while the nearby John F. Kennedy Public Library is at 24%.
Finding a new home for the city’s police force has become a controversial topic as city leaders originally planned to move the police into 400 Mare Island Way along the city’s waterfront but that decision was stopped as community members objected to the plan. Some have suggested the city renovate 111 Amador St. instead.
Malone said that to keep the Amador Street building serviceable it will take investment.
“Just to keep Amador up and running, we need $10 million, $11 million, that we do not have,” Malone said.
Despite the opposition to the tax, Davis said that residents want to see improvements to roads and city buildings. “We’ve heard a lot from the community, and certainly from this council, that there is a desire to increase local investment in our infrastructure,” he said.
Can you join us and pitch in for independent local news?
Our reporting takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. That's why we need a community of support: