PD Editorial: The wrong debate about Measure O

  • From left, Santa Rosa Police Sgt's Rich Celli, Doug Schlief, SRPD officer David Marconi and Petaluma Police Sgt. Ken Savano work out of the Petaluma Police Department's mobile command unit Tuesday Dec . 21, 2010 during an unlicensed and DUI driver sting near the Sonoma County Courthouse in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

His honor made that statement Tuesday during a prickly City Council discussion about funding for Santa Rosa police.

The fallacy is that the mayor or anyone else can claim to know the will of the voters as it pertains to the current messy Measure O situation. That's because Santa Rosa voters in approving Measure O in 2004 did not know that the nation was about to enter the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. They did not know that city revenues in Santa Rosa would tank accordingly. And they did not know that approving Measure O — a quarter-cent sales tax to support police, fire and gang prevention — would tie the city in knots in the years to come.

That's because, unless reason prevails, it requires that Santa Rosa devote a larger and larger share of revenue to public safety while cutting funding to absurd extremes for everything else — all under the guise of respecting the will of the voters.

That simply doesn't pass the history test.

The fact is very few voters were even aware that there was a "baseline funding" provision when Measure O was approved. Why? Because the provision was included to ensure that the new funds would enhance existing public safety services and prevent it from becoming an opportunity for the city to cut preexisting funding for these departments.

The city would not be in a budget jam now if Measure O had established percentages of overall revenue to be spent on safety and gang prevention. Instead, actual dollar amounts were set. Measure O requires that funding for public safety not fall below 2004 levels — and it includes built-in inflationary adjustments that don't begin to match reality.

The City Council had an opportunity to go to voters last fall and ask for Measure O clean-up language that would have resolved this situation. But the council unwisely punted. Now, it is destined to engage in these battles each year, trying to figure out what is the proper amount of funding for public safety. And with each year, the risk becomes greater that a City Council majority will fall for the canard that it was the will of the voters that all other city services should continue to be slashed to ensure public safety gains more and more resources. Nonsense.

Council members Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs were on the right course in saying that they cannot evaluate the proper budget for public safety in a vacuum. The council needs to be able to see how it compares with the overall budget picture and the needs of other city departments.

As it is, the city is caught up discussing a "funding gap" that it will never close short of another Gilded Age. This coming year, the city would have to add $2 million more to the police budget to abide by the letter of Measure O. The council agreed to bring police funding up to only $1.1 million to $1.6 million short of baseline.

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