Tax Measure Remains Ill-Defined



In last week’s story concerning the proposed hike in the hotel bed tax, I was quoted as saying I do not think this measure will pass.

What I was trying to say is that if the measure does pass, what I understand to be the twin objectives will not be satisfied. (1) A modest hike in this tax, so long as bed tax levels in other cities remain comparable, will not appreciably decrease the number of hotel guests in the city. Never mind that it’s regional day visitors, not the out-of-towners staying in hotel rooms, who contribute most to congestion and city costs. (2) If the idea is to use this newfound money for congestion relief, it’s not clear at all, based on the language of the measure itself, whether this will happen or, if it does, what that might look like or if the outcome will even be noticeable.

I do think such uncertainty undercuts prospects that the measure passes. Does the city need more revenue? I think so.

Are there ways to better manage the visitor population and thereby reduce congestion, so that residents and visitors alike can better enjoy Laguna Beach? I think so.

Does the city’s current planning process as yet suggest any real answers? Who can say? (Okay, I’ll say no.)

Thus this measure to me feels like the cart before the horse. What seems clear is that city leaders don’t have answers; at least not any they are prepared to share publicly. Certainly they don’t trust voters to understand, or support, an actual plan. That’s why they’ve come up with this loosey-goosey idea they hope a majority of voters can support, as state law requires a two-thirds vote for an actual plan to raise money and spend it on particular purposes.

Supporting this measure requires a huge leap of faith when the answer to the question of what will actually happen could be anything from more undergrounding to more police to who-knows-what in the way of parking and traffic “improvements.”

When I read quotes from the city manager and mayor that there’s little or nothing Laguna can do to meaningfully reduce congestion, I have no confidence this measure offers any hope of any real change.

Wouldn’t it be grand if somehow the community with effective leadership could rally around a handful of truly solid ideas? Positive, new and proactive ideas for enhancing the distinctive character and livability of Laguna Beach, as opposed to only coming together for disaster relief or when something dear to residents is threatened such as the museum or the Canyon.

Oh, never mind. I think I’ll go back to reading my copy of “Waiting for Godot.”

Paul Freeman, Laguna Beach

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