Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Moving Forward After the Vote

At long last, Election Day has come and gone.  The decisions with which we must live for the next few years have been made.  It’s time to ponder the next steps, particularly with regard to the tax measures that were proposed to pull our cities back from the brink of fiscal breakdown.

Once again, I’ll view the tax measure landscape through the telescope of Petaluma’s Measure Q.  However, I expect that the observations will provide at least a few insights to similar tax measures elsewhere.

However, you have an advantage on me today.  You know whether Measure Q passed.  I don’t.  I’m working on this post while keeping an eye on the early returns, with the decision on Measure Q unclear.

So today will be a do-it-yourself blog post.  Pick the heading below that matches the headline in your morning paper and read on.  (If the “Yes” and “No” ballots ended nearly equal, perhaps you should read both.  You’ll have plenty of time as the County election officials sort out the tally.)

Measure Q Sneaks By

 Despite consistent erosion from the early polling numbers, Measure Q held on to win.  The sales tax in Petaluma will jump by one percent and City Hall takes a big step away from the fiscal cliff.

I’m pleased.  I like my town and didn’t wish it to be under the continuing spectre of a possible bankruptcy.

But that doesn’t mean that all is rosy.  There are serious questions about whether the civic improvements promised by the Measure Q proponents can all be delivered.

Also, there are at least a few folks like myself who voted for Measure Q, but don’t believe that the Rainier Connector makes sense for the City.  Those who would view the victory of Measure Q, however thin the margin, as a plebiscite for the Rainier Connector shouldn’t forgot those of us who voted for Measure Q without supporting Rainier.

It seems to me that the City Council, if they are to responsibly represent the citizens, needs to take an honest look  at the cashflow for the Measure Q revenue and then to refine their wish list.  I know it’s be politically difficult, nigh upon political suicide, to remove Rainier from the table shortly after securing a tax increase with Rainier as the key talking point, but better now than later.

Of course, the wild card is the citizens committee that will be formed to ensure that the new revenues are spent as promised.  If, as I suspect, it’ll be impossible for Measure Q to cover all the proposed improvements, the function of the committee would seem to become murky.

I have no idea how the committee process will play out, but I’ll be a greatly interested observer.

It’s great that Measure Q passed, but the story has only begun.  The City has challenging times ahead.

Measure Q Goes Down to Narrow Defeat

After rosy early projections of easy victory, Measure Q stumbled in the homestretch, coming up short at the wire.

But the need to mend City finances remains.  The financial projections from City Hall show dire numbers in the coming fiscal year.  There seems little alternative but to return to the voters with a more modest and more focused tax measure.

Therefore, we should look at the nature of the Measure Q defeat.  From conversations around town, it seems to me that the “No” voters fell into three camps, those who think that government is so inefficient that they’ll vote against any tax measure, those who may be sympathetic to the financial difficulties at City Hall but have their own pocketbook worries to consider, and those who are willing to help their city but were troubled by the structure of Measure Q.

The first two groups likely can’t be swayed regardless of any new arguments that may be mustered.  So that leaves the third group.  And I believe strongly believe that the folks who were sympathetic to the plight of City Hall but nonetheless opposed Measure Q can be convinced to support a Son-of-Q proposal. But the support won’t come easily.  I see three major tasks:

Education: I know the City financial records are open, but the records are complex and difficult to comprehend for a layperson.  A series of public workshops, heavily promoted in local media, might help bridge the educational gap.  The workshops could also include interaction with City departments on the issues behind the fiscal crisis.

But the information can’t be organized with a particular agenda in mind.  And honest answers must be provided to citizen questions.  Obfuscation would undermine any potential benefits.  Although I wasn’t present, I was told of a situation in an early Measure Q public meeting where an earnest question from a concerned citizen was given an evasive answer.  That non-response seemed to echo throughout the following campaign.

Insight: The thoughts of the educated citizenry on a new ballot measure must be sought and carefully weighed.  Obviously, everyone’s pet issues can’t be accommodated, but a reasonable balance can be sought.  I understand that the Rainier Connector was included in Measure Q because of polling, but I wonder if a better accounting of the Rainier costs as vetted through a public process might not have resulted in Rainier being omitted from the ballot measure.  The slimmed down Measure Q might well have passed.

Outreach: Petaluma has a strong component of public involvement, what one local activist frequently terms its “social capital”.   And yet that element of public life seemed underused in the Measure Q campaign.  Once the next ballot measure is defined, the public should be mobilized to argue in favor of it with their friends and acquaintances.

As one example, Petaluma has an unusually broad range of city committees and commissions, filled with citizens volunteering their time to participate in public life and to improve their community.  I sit on several of those committees and commissions.  And yet not once was a briefing about Measure Q offered in any of the meetings I attend, nor was support sought from the members.  That was a missed opportunity.

As another example, Petaluma has a strong culture of block parties.  Many of the participants value the Petaluma community.  I suggested early in the Measure Q campaign that block parties can be a good place to build a consensus around the fiscal future of the city.  Not only was that suggestion not acted upon, but the city code that makes most block parties technically illegal wasn’t modified.  It was another missed opportunity.

Going forward won’t be easy, but going forward with intelligence and resolve will be necessary.   The City has challenging times ahead.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

1 comment:

  1. I'm deeply concerned that Petaluma has no solution for Stormwater and road repairs. If we are going to maintain these systems responsibly and with care for our watershed we must put an integrated plan and system of payment on the ballot in two years (watch the video for the basis of our integrated concept). And the process needs to start now. Please visit and add yourself to the mailing list so we can form a coalition to get this done. I want to see those vocal progressives that didn't support measure Q stepping up to help out.