A measure headed to the November ballot in Vallejo would establish a 0.875 cent sales tax to raise an estimated $18 million annually for infrastructure repair and “quality of life issues” such as homelessness, illegal dumping, fire protection and crime prevention.

The Vallejo City Council voted 5-2 to approve the “City of Vallejo Safe Streets and Essential Services” measure.

Assistant City Manager Terrance Davis presented the proposal at the council’s July 12 meeting and submitted a staff report outlining the details.

The measure would fund services that Davis said the community provided feedback about from independent public opinion research undertaken by the city.

The priorities included improving emergency response and crime prevention, addressing homelessness; preventing blight, potholes and deteriorating roads and sidewalks; creating better accessibility to streets and sidewalks for people with disabilities and children, and “fiscal stewardship” in the form of essential road repairs on over 400 lane miles of roads that Davis said have been identified as “among the worst in the Bay Area” by independent experts.

A pavement condition index (PCI) is how a city assesses the state of its streets. It is a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best condition. Vallejo’s roads ranked at 51 in 2019, or “poor,” according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional agency that surveys the Bay Area’s roads.

Deteriorating pavement has long been a complaint of Vallejo residents, some of whom recently have taken to filling potholes themselves. (Image via Freepik)

Vallejo residents have long complained about the condition of the roads and the number of potholes. Earlier this year a group calling themselves the “pothole vigilantes” took it upon themselves to go around town and fill the potholes. Though the city sent them a warning, public support was on their side, as well as Councilmember Tina Arriola, who assisted them on occasion.

But Arriola was one of the “no” votes on putting the measure on the ballot, along with Mayor Robert McConnell. Arriola said she would like to see a more focused measure that dedicated funds to a few things instead of the list attached to the measure, which she saw as stretching $18 million over too many problems and thereby not really addressing any.

Councils and priorities may change

McConnell said he would vote no because “councils come and go” and priorities change, and he feared that, though the current body wanted the money for the outlined issues, there was no guarantee that the tax money would end up going to the same issues in the future.

That same fear led many to reject a similar measure in 2020, when voters shot down a sales tax that was supposed to go to the same issues as the Safe Streets measure. Some voters were uncomfortable signing off on tax funds that were not explicitly earmarked for certain things. Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz said she was one of those voters; she didn’t trust city management to use the money wisely.

This measure, however, Loera-Diaz supports “100 percent,” saying that she had confidence in the people in charge of the city now.

“It takes more to run a city than to vote no on everything,” she said.

While Loera-Diaz did not specifically call out Arriola, several councilmembers were contentious with her and the mayor regarding their no votes. Councilmember Katy Miessner snapped at Arriola, saying that she did not think she knew how taxes worked.

For Miessner, not passing the tax could mean going back into bankruptcy, something Vallejo had to declare in 2008. In order to bring economic growth and prosperity, revenue is going to have to be generated for the city, she said, and that revenue will come from this tax, not “magical thinking.”

“There is no knight in shining armor!” she said. “There’s no cavalry.” Davis said that citizen oversight and audits would be built into the measure to ensure “accountability and transparency.” Though the seven-eighths sales tax is expected to raise $18 million per year, that number will fluctuate according to the economy, Davis pointed out. If approved by voters by a simple majority vote, it would go into effect on April 1, 2023.