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CERRITOS COUNCIL DENY RESIDENTS THE CHANCE TO VOTE ON SALES TAX

Controversial Cerritos Mayor Pro Tem Carol Chen coordinated private meeting with other elected officials to talk about upcoming ABC School Board Bond worth $235 Million,

Termed out Cerritos Councilwoman Carol Chen voted no to placing the sales tax on the ballot, denying residents the chance to vote.

 

By Brian Hews

The Cerritos Council, at their regular Dec. 8 meeting, and led by termed out Councilwoman Carol Chen, denied Cerritos residents the right to choose, by a special election, the ability to vote for a sales tax increase in the City.

An angry Councilmember Jim Edwards told Hews Media, “to deny the residents the opportunity to vote for or against this measure is unconscionable.”

The 3/4 cent sales tax increase would bring $11 million into Cerritos, giving the City the ability to keep the Sheriff’s Station and many other services Cerritos residents enjoy using.

All money would be directed to the City’s General Fund to be spent as directed by Council and needed a 4/5 vote of Council.

The vote by Mayor pro tem Solanki was no surprise, Solanki has always advocated balancing the budget using cuts to services.

But Chen’s no vote left many scratching their heads, given the fact that Chen voted to “bring back the vote” in front of Council to place the sales tax on the April ballot a few weeks ago.

With that action, Chen was implicitly saying she approved the tax being placed on the April ballot.

After a long-winded statement, at one point praising the City Manager and staff, at another slamming them for not having all information on the budget cuts available, Chen said, “At this time, I’m fully aware of the financial needs of the City, but I cannot approve the tax on the ballot.”

After Chen’s surprise vote, Mayor George Ray said, “we gave the City Manager and staff 8 months of work, to be done in six weeks. We agreed to look at all the cuts as the information became available later on.”

The decision by Chen to not allow residents the chance to vote for a sales tax was even more mystifying in light of a study that Budget Director Ryan Carey cited.

It was a study that the Council and Chen asked for.

The statewide study encompassed the last ten years and included cities that had raised their sales tax.

The study showed that no sales leakage occurred in every City that was examined.

But that did not matter to the residents during public comment, most of whom were against the sales tax.

Cerritos resident Jay Gray, who was visibly angry and became increasingly offensive during his speech, chided the Council citing that the tax money is really going “to go to the CCPA” and to “benefit the Council.”

Curiously, Gray slammed Councilwoman Chen for “being against the school bond but now wants to tax Cerritos residents.” Gray said that La Palma, who just passed a sales tax, was different, “they lost a big company and revenue, their council does not spend money like you drunken sailors.”

Cerritos resident Anantha Narayanan accused the Council and staff of censorship, saying that the way the agenda was put together “placed a gag on the people who want to talk on the subject.”

He went so far as to say the way the spending of the proposed sales tax was worded was, “Soviet style propaganda.” Narayanan also wanted to see a “better plan on how the City plans to audit and report on spending.”

Resident Gavin Riley supported the sales tax saying, “that’s the price of living in the City, you have to support the City. I would not hesitate to fix the leak in my roof, in many ways the City is an extension of my house, and it needs fixing.”

After a few additional speakers, public comment was closed and Chen went into her speech.

“How are we going to cut expenses, we have asked staff for an analysis of the major cost centers, we don’t have all the reports and analysis, the Council has given direction but has not gotten the report back from staff.”

Mayor pro tem Solanki said, “I have never been in favor of sales tax, we need to do more, give the City Manager direction, you don’t have money, you don’t spend it, I am not supporting the tax on the ballot.”

Hews Media contacted Councilmember Jim Edwards who said, “living in Cerritos for over 41 years has given me and my family an unmatched quality of life. A sales tax increase will help Cerritos get out of the red and give us needed reserves for years to come.”

“This is a decision that will effect the future of our city. I feel this is of such importance that it must be made by the registered voters of Cerritos. To place this on the ballot requires a 4/5 vote of the city council. This is not a decision that 5 elected officials should make. Unfortunately, only 3 council members voted last week to put it on the April ballot. To deny the residents the opportunity to vote for or against this measure is unconscionable.”

Edwards went on, “With the passage of a 3/4% tax increase, it would cost the residents an additional .75 cents on every $100 they spend. This would be paid by all individuals shopping in Cerritos. This increase would bring approximately $11 million to Cerritos every year.”

Edwards finished saying, “Now, in order to reach a balanced budget, without the sales tax increase, major cuts must be made. There will have to be cuts in our Sheriff‘s services, public safety, street and tree maintenance, library services, parks and recreation services, senior citizen services and many city programs. The residents of Cerritos were not given the opportunity to choose their future quality of life in Cerritos. Democracy was denied.”

Mayor Ray singled out Solanki and Chen, “I am very disappointed that Mayor Pro Tem Solanki and Councilwoman Chen did not give the voters an opportunity to determine the future of Cerritos by allowing them to vote for or against a sale tax increase. Future City Council Members will have to make very difficult decisions in an effort to reach a balanced budget for Cerritos without making drastic cuts to vital programs that the residents of Cerritos demonstrated in the survey that they do not want cut. I believe this decision not to approve a ballot measure on the April 11, 2017 election will come back to haunt us in the future as the money in reserves is depleted if future councilmembers don’t make the cuts necessary to balance the budget or on the other hand they do make the cuts to the public safety programs, city street and tree maintenance and social programs in the Library, Parks and Programs and the city starts going down hill as a ‘High Quality of Life City.’ This is a no win for the residents of Cerritos.”

Hews Media reached out to Scott Smith, President/CEO of the Cerritos Regional Chamber of Commerce who said, “My concern is first and foremost for the business community. When you consider closing the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts or limiting public safety, there are unintended consequences to local businesses. Those restaurants and shops around CCPA benefit greatly from the traffic performances drive, and they are quite nervous about even the discussion of closing the Center. As for public safety, many businesses locate to Cerritos due to the great business climate and safety, both of which could be seen as reduced if both crime and response times increase. These issues can greatly impact sales in the City, hurting sales tax income and compounding existing revenue problems.”

Hews Media requests for comment was not answered by Chen, Pulido or Solanki.

In other matters, Council voted to bring back “sometime in the future” the all-mail ballot proposition.

An all-mail ballot election would have been conducted by mailing an official ballot and voter information guide directly to each registered voter in Cerritos.

According to the city clerk’s office, there is over 32,000 registered voters in Cerritos.

Voters would have had the choice of mailing that ballot back to the city clerk’s office, dropping the ballot off at the city clerk’s office, or dropping the ballot off at drop off locations throughout the city on Election Day.

Reasons cited for delaying the proposition were: candidates with more money  to spend would have an advantage

in reaching voters sooner, and the difficulty of ethic population’s vote would rather go to the polls then sand in a ballot.

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