oters in Santa Cruz are set to decide on a handful of measures at both the county and city levels—one of which will radically reshape the way city leaders are chosen.
Other measures include various ways for jurisdictions to raise much-needed revenue, including increases to the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax and ways to split the fee for disposable cups. A half-cent sales tax for the city is also on the menu.
And then there is Measure D, which could affect the county’s plans for its rail line, and which has indelibly divided the county along ideological lines. Will the county continue to pursue a rail-trail model, with passenger rail a future possibility? Or will this measure rewrite the general plan to focus solely on a trail-only model?
If approved, this measure would increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) hotels and vacation rentals would charge their guests from 12% to 14%.
County officials say the increase would raise an estimated $2.3 million annually, and help fill a $301 million budget gap for unfunded projects, as well as $29 million from recent storm response and roughly $44 million for homeless services programs.
The revenue also funds wildfire prevention and response, street repair and public health services.
The last increase was in 2012, when the TOT increased from 9.5 to 11%.
When the 25-cent fee for disposable cups at food establishments in the unincorporated parts of the county was approved in 2019, the businesses were slated to receive the entire amount.
The Board of Supervisors heeded calls by environmentalists to help reduce waste and plastic pollution, and to encourage consumers to use reusable cups.
If Measure C passes, the fee would be split evenly between the businesses and the county, which stands to gain an estimated $700,000 annually.
That revenue would fund areas such as water quality, public health, marine life, in addition to public education and other general services.
Also called the “Santa Cruz County Greenway Initiative,” this measure would change the county’s General Plan to include language supporting the Greenway vision for development of a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail between the San Lorenzo Bridge in Santa Cruz and Lee Road in Watsonville. It would also alter the plan to allow for the removal of existing railroad tracks, advocating for the “railbanking” of the existing rail line. Since the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC)—the agency which has been developing plans for rail-and-trail for several years—is not bound by the county’s General Plan, it is unclear to what extent these language changes will actually impact the future of rail in Santa Cruz County, if at all.
Passage of this measure would shift the City of Santa Cruz to a six-district system, with an elected mayor that would serve a four-year term.
The city is set to change its leadership structure, whether this measure passes or not. If voters reject Measure E, the city in November will be under a seven-district voting system, with each district having its own representative and an at-large mayor.
Councilmembers could run for mayor immediately after two terms, and mayors could run for a district seat immediately after two terms as mayor. Both positions would term out after 16 consecutive years in office.
These changes are prompted by litigation filed under the California Voting Rights Act.
Measure F would impose a half-cent sales tax on non-grocery purchases—from 9.25% to 9.75% on purchases—generating an estimated $6 million in additional revenue for the City of Santa Cruz.
Because it is considered a “general tax,” the city could use the revenue for purposes such as recreation programs, homelessness, affordable housing, maintaining city streets and public safety services.