Thursday, January 31, 2008
The chances of winning the California Lotto Jackpot are 1 in 14 million. And although she didn’t win the whole jackpot, Idella Tyus, a caregiver from Seaside, did win $25,000 last Saturday in the lottery. Saul Aviles, also of Seaside, won $4,000.
That kind of good luck is needed at Seaside City Hall. The city needs cash and is betting on the success of a tax measure on Tuesday’s ballot.
Seaside is at a financial turning point, its latest since the announced closure of Fort Ord in the early 1990s.
Originally known as East Monterey when founded in 1887, Seaside has been clamoring to be more like its richer and more famous neighbor since incorporation in 1954. Of late, Seaside’s self-esteem has been flourishing. Positive indicators:
• Seaside’s sales tax base has tripled in the past 20 years, in part because of a deal it made with Sand City just before Edgewater Plaza’s opening, and from its lucrative tax-generating auto mall.
• Crime mostly has been in decline since Fort Ord closed.
• An increasing tourist economy, with money rolling in from Embassy Suites; a new hotel and convention space being built next to the city’s two championship golf courses, Bayonet and Blackhorse; and a new hotel in the works near Roberts Lake.
• Young families have moved to the city, and like most of Monterey County the housing market boomed. When Dr. John L.D. Roberts subdivided his uncle’s 150-acre ranch in the late 1880s to form the city, lots were $25. In 2007, the median price of a home sold in Seaside was $585,000.
• The current city administration is astute and service oriented. The Weekly’s headquarters have been in Seaside since early 1991, and we’ve dealt with the city many times since then, and pushed for more sunshine at City Hall.
But economic reality is settling in for Seaside.
Leaping at the opportunity to absorb some of the old Fort Ord, the size of Seaside expanded from 3 square miles to 9. Recent development projects, in particular Seaside Highlands, were municipal giveaways – the developer made millions while costs to the city rose. The city missed an opportunity on other developments, too. The Broadway Fremont Commercial Retail project, built by Don Orosco, for example. There’s no mixed-use housing at Seaside’s new strip mall, no neighbors living above shops to help populate Broadway and create a more vibrant downtown. On another front, the city didn’t require significant development fees for the new hotel project at the golf courses. And there’s more suburban-style housing proposed for the east side of General Jim Moore Boulevard, hardly visionary. Mayor Ralph Rubio acknowledges this kind of development costs the city more than it brings in. A proposed mall near the university on Lightfighter Drive should look like San Jose’s Santana Row, not Sand City’s Edgewater Plaza.
While the population of Seaside is increasing, a physically larger city requires more services. Which leads us to Measure R and the need for more revenue.
City staff spent months talking to the city of Marina about sharing police and fire services. But then-Marina City Councilman Michael Morrison was able to scuttle that deal at the 11th hour.
The new Seaside has housing developments farther from the city core, more traffic headed to CSU Monterey Bay, which it is responsible for, and more property to keep an eye on. While the university has its own police and fire services, the city is responsible for adequate response times to areas near there. Seaside’s police force is smaller compared with the rest of the county: 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents, versus 1.8 countywide.
The council considered various tax measures, but each would have required a two-thirds majority.
Seaside’s council chose to play better odds, and is seeking a sales tax measure that requires 50 percent of the voters, plus one, for approval. Measure R would raise the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent.
The benefits of Measure R and the increased revenues to the city justify its passage. If it fails, community service officers may be eliminated from the police department, and detectives reassigned; public safety staff will be stretched beyond capacity.
With an enhanced self-esteem, Seaside no longer needs to give away its gems to attract the right projects. Future developments should enhance the vibrancy of the core business districts. The city needs to strike an immediate deal with Marina and consummate the Joint Protection Services Agreement.
Measure R is a necessary step toward shoring up Seaside’s finances. If it fails, the city might have to devote part of its budget to buying weekly lottery tickets. But that’s no way to finance a city.