Our view: Chamber opposes sales tax measure and so do we

Letters

The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors recently voted to oppose the half-cent general-purpose sales tax measure in a 9-1 vote—a gutsy and important move.
Mark Turner, Chamber CEO and president, said after receiving 200 responses to a recent survey, businesses gave the organization “clear direction.” The decision was made after more than an hour of debate the night of Aug. 26, and a majority of Chamber members who responded took issue with the lack of citizen oversight, he said. As it stands now, all potential tax revenue can be used for any general purpose.
“The Chamber represents a lot of business owners and operators who have spoken with a clear voice,” Turner said. “They indicated they are not in favor of a half-cent sales tax increase.”
Neither are we.
Though not a scientific poll, our question this week asks readers if they would shop in Morgan Hill more frequently if Gilroy’s sales tax jumped to 9.25 percent. More than 80 percent of respondents said they would. A sales tax increase is not a popular idea in the least wealthy city in Santa Clara County. Gilroy has problems, but so does every other city in California. Taxing Gilroy more than wealthier communities like Palo Alto is counterproductive, especially when there is no guarantee the funding will pay for anything but salaries and pensions.
As the first organization to openly oppose the tax measure, the Chamber is taking a stand and drawing the lines in the sand.
“The board hasn’t decided at this point whether to be more active in campaigning against it,” Turner said. “That will be an ongoing discussion the board will have.”
The Chamber played an important role in helping revise the controversial sign ordinance that banned A-frames, mascots, banners and flags. They didn’t do it alone. Business owners got together and made a difference. It’s a success story in itself and exemplifies how public involvement can change public policy.
When the ordinance came up for a second reading in April, the Chamber was there to stand up for local businesses. Business owners and concerned citizens came forward while some did door-to-door outreach. Together, they planned to take on City Hall to protect their businesses.
Fast-forward from April to now: the part of the ordinance that ruffled so many feathers—an outright ban on A-frames and costumed advertisers—has been revised. Many Gilroy businesses, especially downtown, got what they wanted because people spoke up and got involved in the process.
Early on, the Chamber took a clear stance. While Turner said he understood the council’s intentions in trying to prevent tattered signs from multiplying across town, signage helps businesses survive. Every business owner knows that half the battle is getting people through the front door.
The night that the sign ordinance was formally ratified, Fiesta Auto Insurance franchise owner Barbara Rubio grew increasingly concerned. Between 70 and 80 percent of her customers walk through the doors because of their costumed crow mascot, “Max,” who waves at passing cars on First Street, she said.
Rubio and her husband, John, received calls from other sympathetic business owners and they took up the fight-first, by involving small Latino-owned businesses.
Motivated by the thought of losing a significant chunk of business to a piece of homegrown legislation, concerned business owners went door-to-door and enlisted the help of their neighbors. In May, a collective of Gilroyans met with Turner to hash out a game plan on how to most effectively fight the ordinance. Ultimately, they convinced the council to hold a study session and hear them out. It was the product of many people, some who may have never been involved in politics, working towards a common goal.
In order for the council’s legislation to adequately represent who we are as a community, we need to pay attention to what’s going on around us and speak up.
Every time business owners or citizens conquer the nerves to speak at a Council meeting, they encourage others to do the same. Driven by necessity and fueled by the threat of losing business, enough Gilroyans gathered, shared their thoughts, listened to others and presented their issues in a cohesive way. It worked and the Council was open to taking another look.
The ordinance’s ultimate revision not only reflects how crucial involvement by the public is, it underscores the need for greater outreach by the City and local agencies to include everyone in the process. It also demonstrates the need for local agencies, much like the Chamber, to publicly take a stand when it matters.

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