Misty-eyed at City Hall

A Mom, a Boy and a Library
A Mom, a Boy and a Library

It’s official! As Martin Nelis reported: “On Monday, August 1st, the Pleasant Hill City Council voted unanimously to place a revenue measure on the November 2016 ballot to provide locally controlled funding for consideration by the voters.”

And I have to admit, after sitting through my first City Council meeting, ever, on that Monday, I had a little mist in my eyes as a resounding yes for the ballot measure swept the Council. I know I wasn’t the only one.

So, what does this ballot measure have to do with misty eyeballs and this blog? This ballot measure–Measure K–if approved by the citizens of Pleasant Hill in November, would bump our sales tax from 8.5% up to 9 percent. The funds raised–approximately $4 million annually for 20 years–would go into a locally controlled pot to deal with local quality of life and infrastructure priorities like road and drain repairs, bike and walking paths, and the building of a new Pleasant Hill Library. The great thing about this funding stream is that it cannot be taken away by the state. As Nelis reported, “Over the past 10 years, the State has taken over $20 million from Pleasant Hill,” which has left our city with very little. And yet Pleasant Hill has managed to make our community relevant and responsive despite decades of limited funding. Mayor Sue Noack, whose background is in banking and finance (she’s even served in the role of Chief Risk Officer), said the ballot measure’s sales tax increase “feels very fiscally responsible.”

Pleasant_Hill_CA_City_Hall
The site of said misty eyeballs. By Danstone360 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0]

I learned so many things at the City Council meeting.

  1. That you never forget the Pledge of Allegiance. No matter how long it’s been.
  2. That September 2016 is now Anti-hazing Awareness Month in Pleasant Hill.
  3. That Councilman David Durant is not seeking re-election this fall. (“I’m sad at you!” Debbie Toth, CEO of Rehabilitation Services of Northern California said to Councilman Durant.)
  4. That the allocation of our current 8.5% sales tax breaks down like this: 1% goes to Pleasant Hill, 6.5% goes to the County and the State, 0.5% goes to Contra Costa Transportation Authority, and 0.5% goes to BART.
  5. That some of the towns in Contra Costa County already have 9.5% and 10% sales tax.
  6. That when addressing the Council, you really do have to keep your comments under three minutes–they have a timer!
  7. That even non-residents (like library manager Patrick Remer’s mom, who now lives in Walnut Creek) support the ballot measure.
  8. That our residential streets are in a serious state of disrepair.
  9. That a half cent sales tax works out to be about $5 for every $1,000 we spend, which is basically like buying a latte to get you through your family’s winter holiday shopping.
  10. That it is now up to all of us to spread the word and drum up support to pass this ballot measure in the fall.
  11. And that we have the best storytime in the County.

Oh wait, I knew that last one.

It was a crowded chamber and the people who came forward to make a public comment about the measure represented different facets of our community, from the Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay to the 2016 Pleasant Hill Citizen of the Year (who also happens to be the Pleasant Hill Education Commissioner) to the CEO of Rehabilitation Services of Northern California. There was also a voice of dissent: A citizen on a fixed income raised legitimate concerns about a sales tax hike and the language of the ordinance. Once the public comments closed, the Council proceeded to address that citizen’s concerns.

Several people spoke on behalf of library, from patrons to professionals. Like new Friend and professional librarian, Crystal Schimpf, who told the Council that her work supports libraries on a national level, and she has been “delighted by the programs and offerings” at Pleasant Hill Library, but “shocked to find the state of its facility.” Schimpf pointed out that “a modern library is designed to meet the needs of our modern community.” “A 21st-century library,” she assured us, “is a library of right now.”

Another librarian there, one we all know and love, happened to be sitting next to the citizen who voiced his concerns about the measure. And that certain librarian said by the time Councilman Michael Harris (and self-proclaimed Most Frequent Visitor to the Pleasant Hill Library) asked for a show of hands of who supports the ballot measure, even the man sitting next to him raised his.

By far, the best things I learned at the City Council meeting are (1) that Pleasant Hill has a vibrant and dedicated community, full of spectacular citizens who are actively engaged in making our city its best; and (2) our City Council, as Patrick Remer put it, has continually “demonstrated a commitment to our quality of life”. If Measure K is passed, the City Council can continue to improve our quality life by investing in our community’s infrastructure and our community library.

You, too, can view Martin Nelis’ presentation, Pleasant Hill’s Needs and Priorities, that we all saw at the City Council meeting prior to the Public Comment. You can find the actual language of the ordinance here. And you can take the opportunity to share your opinion on our local needs and priorities by completing the city’s survey here.

Pleasant Hill Needs-Priorities June 2016
Martin Nelis’ presentation courtesy of the City of Pleasant Hill

The November 8 election is less than three months away. It is now really really up to us to get the vote out so that Measure K passes and Pleasant Hill can fix and maintain roads, walking and bike paths, and storm drains; and build a new library.

According to Susan Weaver, President of the Friends, the November 2016 voter scenario looks like this:

All Pleasant Hill registered voters: 19,944

Potential turnout: 16,354

“Voter drop off” (mailed in ballots): 14,882

Votes needed to win: 7,442

Seven-thousand five-hundred votes seems so attainable. With so much at stake in this election, we cannot take voter turnout for granted. Let’s go out there and start some conversations about improving our quality of life, local funds for local needs, our community’s infrastructure, and our 21st century “library of right now” that we will love even more than our library of 50+ years ago–and that will love us right back, misty eyeballs and all.