Release Date: Friday, April 6th 2012
Downtown Businesses Question Schneider’s Proposed License Fee Initiative
Mayor says her plan is designed to help pay for Santa Barbara officers who spend their nights patrolling the city's 'entertainment district'
By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider’s proposed business license fee initiative received a more critical response Thursday from downtown businesses who questioned their inclusion, since some are more than a mile away from the bars in the lower State Street area where so many police officers patrol on weekend nights.
Schneider proposed a new tax, as part of a package of initiatives she plans to bring to city voters on the November ballot, since almost every patrol officer on duty spends his or her night downtown when bars let out to deal with large crowds and the occasional alcohol-fueled incident. Her pitch is simple: Why not have those businesses, which are consuming more police resources at night, pitch in more?
It applies to all businesses in the “entertainment district” — between Sola Street to the north, Santa Barbara Street to the east, Cabrillo Boulevard to the south and Chapala street to the west — that sell alcoholic beverages and are open to new customers after 11 p.m. on six or more nights per year. If the measure passes, those businesses would have to pay a new tax of one-quarter percent of gross receipts to the city.
Schneider is gathering signatures for this and two other proposed initiatives — one that would force city employees to pay their share into retirement, and a half-percent city sales tax.
The Downtown Organization hosted Schneider on Thursday to help inform businesses, since many of them would be affected and maybe hadn’t realized that, according to president Dave Lombardi of FastFrame.
Schneider’s notice of intent for petitioning introduced the initiative a different way, saying it would charge additional fees for businesses “that serve alcohol after 11 p.m. for at least six nights per calendar year.” The actual language is, “businesses that serve alcohol and are open after 11 p.m. for at least six nights per calendar year, which brings in a lot of additional businesses.”
Randy Rowse, Downtown Organization member, city councilman and owner of the Paradise Café on Anacapa Street, said businesses raised concerns about being included if they didn’t believe they contribute to the volume of police calls because of their clientele or location. With the named boundaries, the Harbor View Inn and Canary Hotel would be included, as would restaurants at the northern end of downtown such as Opal and Carlitos.
It’s unclear what “new customers” after 11 p.m. means, Rowse added. Paradise Café, for example, doesn’t close at 11 p.m. but stops seating people for dinner then. Someone could still come in for a slice of pie after that, making him eligible for the new business license fee.
The other issue that has come up is the use of the additional city revenue. Since it’s listed as a “new city tax” with no specific purpose, that money would go into the general fund.
Schneider, in a town hall-style meeting last week, told residents it was purposefully done so it could be passed with a simple majority vote, not a two-thirds super-majority.
Though she says she would pursue a resolution to spend that money on enhanced public safety in that area at night, that would require support of the City Council, and there is no language even mentioning that possibility in the city attorney-approved ballot statement.
The measures each require the support of 15 percent of registered voters, or about 6,700 people.
Schneider hasn’t gathered any endorsements — and said she doesn’t plan to until signature-gathering is done this summer — but has been fundraising to help the petition process.
Many of her usual supporters have contributed to the Invest in Santa Barbara 2012 campaign account, with donations from $100 to $5,000, she told Noozhawk on Thursday. They include Sara Miller-McCune, founder of the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy; Dave Davis of the Community Environmental Council; Rob Pearson, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara; land use consultant Suzanne Elledge; and retired attorney and city attorney David Hughes. Others include Barbara Allen, Laurie Ashton, Charles Blitz, EJ Borah, Susan Bower, Neil Dipaola, Anna Grotenhuis, Craig Madsen, David Peri and Joe Tumbler.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com.