By Jim Tortolano
One anticipated clash didn’t develop at Wednesday’s meeting of the Westminster City Council, but another conflict emerged later.
At the request of Councilwoman Diana Carey, the agenda included discussion of the Little Saigon shuttle bus service slated to start at the end of October. The city’s agreement with the Orange County Transportation Authority was controversial at the last council meeting, with Councilwoman Margie Rice voting against it, and two other members – Carey and Sergio Contreras raising questions about the agreement.
But Wednesday night, with Orange County First District Supervisor Andrew Do there to speak to the council – and Rice absent – the mood was much more collegial. Discussion focused on the benefits and future of the free service.
The real fireworks occurred later after Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) spoke to the council in opposition to Measure SS, a proposed one-cent sales tax to meet Westminster’s financial crisis.
“The residents don’t want it,” he said. “It’s unfair to ask residents to pick up the tab” of fixing the city’s deficit. He urged the city to find new ways to reduce costs. “There should be ways to tighten the belt. There are still ways to cut expenses.”
Allen left but later in the meeting, Carey gave a spirited rebuttal, her voice rising to anger toward the end. She accused Travis of yielding to ideology and indulging in “truthiness” as she defended the council’s decision to place the tax increase on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“We did not do this lightly,” she said. Speaking against Allen’s assertion that a sales increase would hurt the local economy, she said “There are 18 other cities in the area that have raised sales tax and not one of them has experienced a downturn.”
She noted that in the Seventies, the city council slashed the local property tax rate, which was frozen when Prop. 13 went into effect in 1979. The effect is that Westminster now has the lowest property tax rate in the county, and second lowest in the state.
The Great Recession, and declines in revenue from Westminster Mall and other tax generators had led to annual deficits to which the city has responded by laying off one-third of its employees. “We have been dipping into reserves,” she said. “We will be out of reserves in two years” if Measure SS doesn’t pass, she added.