SAN DIEGO —
A group of San Diego community leaders on Wednesday announced plans to place a parcel tax on the November 2022 ballot to fund $250 million in renovations and upgrades to city parks and libraries.
A parcel tax requires equal contributions from all properties regardless of assessed value. That’s in contrast to a general obligation bond, where property owners contribute based on the assessed value of their property.
Supporters said the proposed tax is badly needed to upgrade deteriorating parks, renovate older libraries and build new versions of each. Low-income areas would be targeted because most have historically been neglected, supporters said.
The specific amount each property would contribute was not revealed Wednesday. Supporters said they are still making calculations and refining details, but suggested property owners would pay “a few dollars a month.”
Supporters said they plan to gather the 82,000 signatures needed to make the ballot measure a citizen’s initiative, which would require only a simple majority for approval.
If supporters don’t gather enough signatures and ask the City Council to place the measure on the ballot, the approval threshold would rise to two-thirds of voters.
The $250 million amount is based on separate evaluations of city parks and libraries completed in recent months showing that roughly $50 million is needed for library upgrades and roughly $200 million is needed for parks projects.
“There is an urgent need to ensure adequate and ongoing funding for parks and libraries,” said Michel Anderson, chair of the San Diego Parks Foundation. “Many of our parks are wonderful, but there are so many others that are falling into disrepair.”
Patrick Stewart, chief executive of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, said investing in libraries is the same as investing in education and jobs.
“Thousands of San Diego children and adults rely on libraries for free academic programs and internet service, but there is not equitable access to technology if you live near an older branch,” he said. “This is our chance to guarantee every San Diegan has access to a world-class library.”
The two foundations will help lead what they are characterizing as a grassroots campaign in support of the parcel tax. They plan to raise money to help pay for signature gatherers.
While 82,000 valid signatures are needed from registered voters, organizers said their goal is to get 110,000 to make sure they easily surpass that.
Because the parcel tax could be a heavy burden on some property owners, organizers said they are exploring exemptions for the owners of affordable housing and property owners with low incomes.
The $250 million is probably an underestimate of how much is needed to fund long overdue repairs to city parks and libraries, said Katherine Johnston, executive director of the parks foundation.
Johnston declined to share any polling the organizations have done to determine whether enough voters would be likely to support the measure, which they have dubbed “Libraries and Parks For All.”
The parcel tax would create a guaranteed funding source for libraries, parks and other recreation facilities, including municipal pools. City officials could not use the money for other purposes.
Organizers, however, said the ballot measure would allow the money to be spent on academic programs and homeless outreach at parks and libraries, plus free public Wi-Fi and increased security.
“Our communities are growing and changing, but our libraries and parks aren’t keeping up,” said Eden Yaege, president of the Clairemont Libraries Action Group. “This ballot measure will ensure we have adequate facilities to serve the needs of our neighborhoods, which is why grassroots groups like ours wholeheartedly support it.”
Advocates for low-income people often criticize parcel taxes as more regressive than general obligation bonds, which require the owners of more expensive properties to foot a larger portion of the cost than the owners of less expensive properties.