Petaluma has reason to be encouraged about what residents have to say about the city and its future.
According to a survey reviewed by the City Council on Monday, 55.6 percent of residents believe the city is going in the right direction as opposed to fewer than 15 percent who believe the opposite. Roughly 95 percent of the 450 likely voters who were polled just before Thanksgiving believe Petaluma is a good or excellent place to live.
Meanwhile, 43 percent of residents have a favorable view of the Petaluma City Council, while about one in four have an unfavorable one. Given that the approval rating of the state Legislature is around 32 percent -#8212; up from a low of 15 percent two years ago -#8212; and that of Congress hovers at a meager 10 percent, it's not a bad report card for elected officials.
But nothing should give Petaluma more reason to be optimistic about the months ahead than how voters responded to the idea of raising taxes to help the city catch up on its finances. Sixty percent said they would support as much as a 1 percent increase in the city's sales tax over the next 30 years while only about one in three residents were opposed.
If the sales tax increase were kept at a half cent, the support jumped to 65 percent and rose to 69.8 percent for a quarter-cent increase.
Such support for bolstering municipal revenue is in keeping with voter sentiments elsewhere. During the general election in November 2012, 25 cities and towns in California had sales tax increases on the ballot, and voters approved all but two of them. In June, it was a similar story as voters approved 10 of the 11 sales tax measures that were on the ballot in various communities including one -#8212; the Measure J half-cent increase -#8212; in the town of Sonoma.
A tax increase of a full percent in Petaluma would raise an estimated $10 million a year for the city and help address a backlog of projects including road improvements and the long-desired Rainier Avenue overcrossing and interchange project.
Still, there's reason for caution. History has shown that voter sympathies can change quickly. And much will depend on when the council puts a tax increase before voters, if it decides to move forward. If it is added to the Nov. 4 ballot -#8212; when voters also will be deciding on three council spots and the separately elected mayor's seat -#8212; it could be the second of two road-repair revenue measures on the ballot.
As is discussed in the Close to Home on Thursday's opinion page, a campaign is under way to put a vehicle license fee increase on the statewide ballot in the fall that would generate funds for road repair, highway work and transit upgrades. Having two such measures on the ballot could diminish voter support for either or both.
It's also unclear how voters would respond in the face of organized opposition to any local ballot measure. The city will need to be ready with a clear explanation of how it has managed it finances in recent years and why a tax increase is justified.
Nevertheless, this poll at least shows the city has a fighting chance -#8212; before a public that believes the Petaluma is going in the right direction.