Santa Paula Times
Public Forum: Police, fire and youth programs debated for tax issue
Published:  May 06, 2016

A special session held Monday before the regularly scheduled City Council meeting to gave the public a chance to weigh in on the proposed sales tax to benefit public safety.

And some speakers urged that public safety also tackle youth programs to keep kids from a life of gangs and crime.

Mayor Martin Hernandez said the gathering was meant to be a “free form discussion” on the issues.

Facilitator Doug Green guided the approximately 40 attendees and noted, “My first rule is everybody participates” within loose guidelines to encourage “positive solutions” to the issue on hand.

The gathering was prompted by the council’s consideration of placing a sales tax measure on the November ballot to benefit police and fire…some have urged that the measure also include funding for youth programs.

In 2014 area voters defeated Measure F which garnered a clear majority but fell short of the 67 percent needed to pass the special half-cent sales tax, which defined spending of revenue. 

It is indicated that the new tax would be for 1 cent per dollar and be a general tax which City Attorney John Cotti said could be written in such a way to guide — not mandate — future spending. 

“I personally think if they do a sales tax the split should be 50-50 police and fire,” said Cathy Hicks. “I know the youth want special programs but with the library, Boys & Girls Club and the school district they could find money for programs.”

Several speakers spoke of the need of fire services for various responses and addressed the department’s chronic staffing shortfalls due to lack of funding.

Latino Town Hall President Lorenzo Moraza presented a Youth Empowerment Initiative created by the organization that outlined the need for youth activities and possible programs that would be overseen by a community advisory committee.

Said Moraza, “We feel youth needs the most attention…if you don’t address youth the city won’t make a lot of headway,” on reducing crime.

Such spending he noted could be used in conjuncture with existing programs and partners.

“…a plan is in place,” for youth who should receive 30 percent of a new tax said former City Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa.

The city she added must also pursue sources of supplemental funding “to bring more services to Santa Paula.”

“I’m the mother of a fire captain,” said June Byrum who urged that tax revenue be split between fire and police. “I am taxed to death but if I thought it would benefit the community I would vote for it.”

“It’s as important to protect and serve the children as it would be for supporting the cops as well,” said Pastor Johnny Flores.

SPFD Captain Jerry Byrum has served his hometown for 27 years: “Everything talked about today is equally important,” but without reliable funding the fire department staff — which Byrum said responded to 2,700 calls in 2015 — would be slashed by 30 percent when a federal grant expires.

Sofia Roman, a substitute teacher, said existing youth programs are not enough and noted “We lose something if we don’t put money into youth…”

“If you want a long-term solution we have to look at prevention,” noted another speaker.

After some years of community turmoil, “I’m very comfortable in how things are going,” said Robert Borrego, a city native nearing 90 who urged that youth “get some help” from tax revenues.

“Viva Santa Paula!” he concluded 

Fire Chief Rick Araiza acknowledged he is “biased” about funding needs and urged that any tax measure support fire and police.

SPPD Commander Ish Cordero said crime has grown over the years while police staffing lags.

“I’m so deeply proud of being from Santa Paula,” Green told the attendees when the forum ended. “Politicians at a national level should take note and use Santa Paula as an example…”