Two recent events in Ventura County demonstrated the political disconnect between voters and our so-called leadership. The first was the overwhelming defeat of a 6,000- home development in Moorpark. The second was the City of Ventura’s telephone opinion poll on raising taxes. The two events exemplify the disconnect between what local voters want and what their elected officials actually do once in office.
The essential problem in California is that cities have an inherent bias in favor of development and more taxes. More big-box retailers mean more sales tax revenues for the city in which they are located. Thus, civic officials tell us we “need” development lest we wither on the vine.
This is why the City of Moorpark did everything but pick the cheerleading uniforms for the recently defeated North Park development. No one was more surprised by the defeat of North Park than its public sector supporters. With so much for the public sector to gain, private citizen opposition to more crowded streets and schools seemed incomprehensible.
Will the recent setbacks at the polls keep cities from pushing bigger development? Don’t count on it. As the City of Ventura’s recent polling efforts demonstrate, our “leaders” don’t intend to take “No” for an answer. The city is dressing up a request to increase taxes as a “public safety” measure, with goodies in there to protect children and keep out gangs. The poll wasn’t designed to gauge support for whether we wanted a tax; it was designed to find out what phrasing of a ballot measure designed to raise taxes would fool the most people into voting “Yes.”
This is not Ventura’s first foray into trying to manage the image of a proposed tax increase. You see, earlier last month I met a very nice lady downtown while walking to my office. She was from a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm, was staying at the newly renovated Crowne Plaza, and she wanted to ask my opinion about how the city was doing. Like the gentleman on the telephone, she was hired with tax dollars to pose questions to voters about raising their taxes. Just like the telephone pollster, this lady’s questions all contained different iterations of the word “tax,” all framed in the affirmative.
What I find most objectionable about cities paying for polling on how to raise taxes, or actively supporting a development, is that it demonstrates that our public officials are incapable of taking “No” for an answer. They can’t accept that Ventura County voters don’t agree with the view that more taxes and bigger development is the solution to what ails us. Many voters (like me) believe that elected officials are supposed to do what their constituents tell them to do, and that they already get enough money to execute their primary responsibilities. If they have a problem paying for one thing, then they should readjust their priorities and budgets, not spend tax dollars advocating for higher taxes or development fees.
City officials who’ve heard me on this topic before think I’m being too simplistic, that opposing taxes or development simply isn’t being reasonable. Many city leaders claim that “No” is simply not on the table. My question is why? We have a stable population base that is growing richer and more protective of the place they call home. We don’t want the traffic, congestion, and all the other problems that come with development — so what’s so hard to understand?
And herein lies the problem with democracy — it has a funny way of producing what many of our leaders consider to be the “wrong” results. By shooting down additional taxes and housing developments, voters in Ventura County have consistently told our leaders “No” and our leaders still don’t listen. Even if you dress development and taxes up as “affordable housing” and “public safety funds,” Ventura County votes have consistently said “No.” After the overwhelming defeat of North Park, we have to ask our civic leaders, once again: “Can you hear us now?