Thursday, November 5, 2009
measure K supporters huddle around checkered-tablecloth tablesat Casa Sorrento Pizzeria in Salinas. Jose Gil, an Alisal High School basketball coach decked out in Lakers gear, holds up his daughter Nallely on the polished wood bar. Gil, one of a few Alisal residents in the largely south Salinas crowd, is hoping Measure K, a 1-cent sales tax, can help save some lives.
An Alisal student who was shot two years ago died today from the bullets inside him, Gil says. Earlier this morning a 34-year-old man was shot several times while riding his bike on Boronda Road. “It’s a cycle that is not stopping,” Gil says. “It’s only getting worse.”
K would generate $18 million a year and eventually fund Police Chief Louis Fetherolf’s wish list for 84 more cops. But a projected low turnout for the election and tough odds of passing a tax hike during an economic slump is making the crowd nervous.
Absentee ballot results arrive. Campaign Co-Chair Maureen Wruck, who wears sandals and a red fleece, announces the count: K is down by nearly 1,400 votes. “I think we will make it up from our get-out-the-vote today,” Wruck says.
Co-Chair Steve Ish, who works for Taylor Farms, one of the campaign’s biggest contributors, mentally tries to figure out the percentage. (Early results have the measure going down with less than 40 percent of the vote.)
K supporter Juan Mesa jokes that he’s ready to call U-Haul, in case the tax measure succeeds, to move gang members out of the city. “I got them on speed dial,” he says. The south Salinas resident adds that although he lives on the safer side of town, he wants Alisal residents to be able to walk to a local 7-Eleven without fearing robbery or violence.
Fetherolf is already thinking about round two. He took over the police department in April and is trying to spearhead community-oriented policing, but he says he doesn’t have enough officers to connect with residents outside of a crime scene.
Nobody disagrees that the city needs a bigger police department, Fetherolf says, but people took issue with the measure’s lack of a sunset clause and funding restraints. “I think we’ll take another run at it,” he says.
Mayor Dennis Donohue, still carrying his campaign football in honor of a Salinas High student who was killed this year, agrees that the general tax measure wasn’t the right formula. Donohue adds that it was a short timeframe to sell the measure to voters after the City Council put it on the ballot in July.
With K’s demise,the council will have to make $8.5 million in budget cuts for the next fiscal year, says Finance Director Tom Kever. This could include closing Sherwood Hall and four recreation centers, eliminating the fire department’s paramedic program, and laying off 11 firefighters and seven civilian police officers. In all, 61 positions are on the chopping block.
“We weren’t making an idle threat,” Councilwoman Janet Barnes says to the waning group. “It’s going to happen.”
Barnes says she hopes the recreation center’s hours can be scaled back instead of closed, but there is no way of getting around the cutbacks. She says Salinas may see a repeat of a Measure V sequence, in which two 2004 tax measures designed to fill a budget hole to keep libraries open, like K, failed, then voters approved V in 2005 after the council followed through on closing them.
With more time and a larger support base, Barnes says, another tax measure could be successful. In the meantime, Salinas’ gang problem isn’t going away.