Proposed S.D. parcel tax aimed at upgrading libraries, parks falls short of signatures needed for 2024 ballot
Supporters are undecided about making a second try after a signature campaign that cost about $1 million.
A proposed parcel tax that supporters say would fund upgrades to San Diego parks and libraries suffered a major setback when the county registrar of voters office determined the effort hadn’t gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot.
Supporters, who raised and spent roughly $1 million on their signature-gathering campaign last year, said Feb. 22 that they haven’t decided whether to make a second run at collecting enough signatures to get the measure on next year’s ballot. It could be a significant challenge to ask donors to contribute to a second signature effort after the first one failed.
The proposal, called the Library and Parks Investment Act, is intended to raise about $250 million to upgrade deteriorating parks, renovate older libraries and build new versions of each in the city of San Diego. Supporters say parks and libraries need a dedicated funding source.
The effort, intended for the November 2022 ballot, is planned as a citizens initiative needing only simple majority approval.
Properties would be taxed annually at 2 cents per square foot, up to a maximum of one acre, for 30 years. Exemptions would go to properties zoned agricultural and to property owners making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
Parcel taxes are based on the size of the lot and don’t rise over time. That’s in contrast to a general obligation bond, in which contributions by property owners are based on the assessed value of their property, which can increase over time.
“More than 111,000 people signed the petition to put the Library and Parks Investment Act on the ballot, making it clear that San Diegans want our aging libraries and parks to have a sustainable, long-term funding source for improvements,” said Patrick Stewart, head of the San Diego Library Foundation.
City’s first comprehensive evaluation shows most of its 235 parks are in good or fair condition
However, an analysis by the registrar of voters office projected that only 72,285 of the submitted signatures are valid, far short of the required 82,566, or 10 percent of the city’s registered voters.
Signatures may be invalidated for a variety of reasons, including when a person is not registered to vote, does not live within the city limits or signs twice.
The registrar followed its usual practice of analyzing a 3 percent sample of the submitted signatures. If the sampling projects that at least 95 percent of the signatures are valid, the registrar must analyze all the signatures.
The sampling projected that 87.5 percent of the signatures are valid. To qualify for a full count, the sample would need to project 78,438 valid signatures, or 6,153 more than it did.
Stewart said supporters of the ballot measure are working with the registrar to review the methods used in the sampling and to understand the reasoning behind each invalidated signature.
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Signature-gathering began in June, shortly after supporters filed a notice with the city clerk’s office that started a six-month process. Signatures were submitted Dec. 15 and declared insufficient Jan. 24.
Initially, the measure was intended for last November‘s ballot, but supporters announced early last year that they needed more time to raise money and collect signatures. They also said the measure would have a better chance of being approved by voters during a presidential election year, when turnout is higher. Thus they aimed for 2024.
The $250 million the measure seeks to raise is based on separate evaluations of city parks and libraries completed in 2021 showing that about $50 million is needed for library upgrades and roughly $200 million for parks projects.
San Diego invests less per person in its library department than most other California cities, with an annual library budget that is about two-thirds of the state average. And money for parks in the city’s general fund declined by nearly a third between 2005 and 2019.
Supporters could ask the City Council to place the measure on the ballot, but courts have determined that California tax measures placed on the ballot by elected leaders require two-thirds voter approval, as opposed to a simple majority for those placed by private citizens.