The other day I got a flyer from John Mendoza on my door step with a copy of a recent Pomona City Council report and the following note:
Pomona resident city council of Pomona [sic] are getting ready to raise taxes by changing the way we vote. Instead of regular election in November the city council are being urged by city staff to have the first ever in Pomona Mail Ballot only elections. Most of Pomona residents would not know a election was taxing [sic] place and the city of Pomona could raise property taxes and utility taxes with the vote of only a few. NO to Mail Only Elections in Pomona and sneaky taxes. John Mendoza
To clarify, the idea currently on the table, as part of Pomona's "looking for change under the cushions" program, is to double the property transfer tax and to increase the hotel tax by 2% to 12%, not an increase of property or utility taxes. As part of this, the City Council was looking into amending the City Code to allow for mail-in elections. The mail in election would cost about $100,000 more than just adding the measure to the regularly scheduled November ballot, however if the two measures are approved the increased revenue would be $350,000 for about a $250,000 gain as a result of the tax being in place an additional three months.
Still there is a concern of mail in ballot measures sneaking taxes through to the public, although some of this is actually required under California law. The proposed Clean Water Clean Beaches initiative, which would impose a $54 additional parcel tax on most single family homes, is required to be held via a mail in ballot because it is a property assessment for which the cost is based on the square footage of the lot, and benefits the property which is being taxed.
Low turnout elections have a habit of getting only the people in the know to vote. For example, the Bell fiasco was partly caused by a charter amendment and bond measures stuck on an off cycle election scheduled on November 29, the Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday and in the middle of most people's year-end holiday preparations. With the Post Office shuttering distribution centers and planning to end Saturday service, mail-in elections will become even more difficult to be conducted. Although some have decried Pomona's city elections being held on the same day as the presidential election as turning out "uninformed" voters, I would argue that a higher turnout provides greater legitimacy for those who are elected.
Regardless, it would take a unanimous vote of the City Council to allow for a special emergency that would place the property transfer tax and hotel tax increase on the ballot. With such a low turnout, any organized opposition to the measure would cause it to fail handily. Overall, there are enough safeguards that, as a one-time measure, this is probably fine.
(Ultimately, this discussion was postponed to May 7, so that would be a good time to make your views known should you choose.)