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EXCLUSIVE: Cerritos City Council to Consider Three-Quarter Cent Sales Tax

By Brian Hews

Thursday September 12, 2019 • 8:30 p.m.

HMG-LCCN has learned that the Cerritos Council will consider a sales tax increase at their next regular City Council meeting on September 26.

The last time the City considered a tax was Dec. 8, 2016, at that time the target was ¾ cent, but the measure was voted down.

That meeting was marred by the actions of then – termed out Councilwoman Carol Chen, who shockingly denied Cerritos residents the right to choose, by election, the ability to vote for a sales tax increase in the City.

Chen had reportedly told insiders that she would vote yes on the placing the measure on the ballot, then voted no at the meeting.

Jim Edwards, a friend of Chen’s who trusted her word, was incensed, telling HMG at the time, “to deny the residents the opportunity to vote for or against this measure is unconscionable.”

The 3/4 cent sales tax increase would have brought $11 million into Cerritos and funded the Sherriff’s Department and other services in the City.

Chen’s flip-flop and vote came at a time when Chen, Bruce Barrows and current Mayor Naresh Solanki wanted to eliminate the Cerritos Sheriff’s Department.

Chen’s move was obviously political 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 prior to the Dec. 8 meeting.

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, then-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.”

Many said the flip-flop by Chen soured Ray, prompting his decision not to run for Council again.

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 presented.

It was a study that Chen asked for.

The statewide study encompassed the last ten years and included cities that had raised their sales tax and showed that no sales leakage occurred in every City that was examined.

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.”

Then-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.”

Afterwards Edwards told HMG, “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. 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.” 

HMG-LCCN later confirmed that the Council will be seeking a ¾ cent increase which will bring about $12 million to the City’s general fund.

Given his prior stance, chances are not good that Mayor Solanki will approve the measure for the March ballot. The Council needs a 4/5 vote to place it on the ballot.

The Cerritos City Council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on September 26.