The Petaluma City Council, having missed its opportunity to add a TOT increase to the June ballot, is going to give it another go for the November election. The “TOT” is our city’s “Transient Occupancy Tax.” “Transient”, in this instance, refers to those who do not live here but choose to visit our fair city and stay in our hotels. Most of these guests are far from penniless, which is why we want them to visit, stay, and then do some shopping and dining while they are here. Although not quite as nice as Petaluma in my humble opinion, there are many places to visit in Northern California, so an increase in the TOT will drive some people to visit other cities, taking their disposable income with them. Simply put, the TOT is a hotel tax and although it is added at the end, presumably to make clear to guests that the money is being charged by the city, not the hotel, nonetheless, it raises the total lodging bill and makes Petaluma’s hoteliers less competitive than our neighbors. With our TOT already high, coupled with the fact that our hotels are struggling and cannot afford to raise their rates any further, the TOT will cut into their bottom line. An increase in the TOT could devastate our already struggling local economy by sending our visitors, and their sales tax dollars, off to other venues. You can read my previous blog “Tax Increase Will Hurt Petaluma” for more information.
I encourage everyone who wants to see Petaluma’s economy return to prosperity, sooner rather than later, to turn out for Monday’s city council meeting and raise an objection to the proposed TOT increase. An increase in this tax will have a ripple effect as it drives hotel guests to other nearby cities. And it isn’t just the sales tax revenues we will be losing… let’s not forget that the products that these guests buy help keep our local businesses afloat.
My original intention of this blog was not to rail against the TOT, but was to commend city council member Mike Healy. Although I don’t know a lot about Mr. Healy, I am impressed with his sense of duty to his constituents and for his dedication to his post as city council member. Mr. Healy is going to be on a family vacation in a remote area of the northwest, but that isn’t stopping him from weighing in on the TOT increase discussion. You can read more in the Petaluma 360 article, “Healy won’t let vacation stop council duties.”
Our city council tends to be split down a 4-3 line, with Mr. Healy in the minority. It appears that the city council may need more than its normal majority in order to move the TOT increase discussion forward on Monday. If Mr. Healy were not “present,” this might be possible, so his availability during his family vacation is commendable. (It should also be noted that city council members are, for all intents and purposes, volunteers, being paid a measly stipend, in the single digits, for each meeting they attend.)
If the TOT was placed on this week’s agenda in the hopes that Mr. Healy would be absent, the city council should be admonished. Whether to garner a higher percentage of votes or just to avoid having to hear his opinions on the matter, trying to thwart the democrat process through these kinds of shenanigans is deplorable. Of course, it is only a rumor that this was the case, but when it comes to democracy, I like to error on the side of the public good, not the electorate’s feelings. Mr. Healy was voted into office as one of our public representatives, by us. Using his absence in order to progress an agenda is basically telling the people of Petaluma that the city council knows better than we do what is best for us. Some council members make this quite clear, as easily witnessed by the condescending tone they use when speaking to fellow council members, as well as the general public, but I would hope the council, as a whole, would remember why they were elected and who elected them.
The city council is not there to do their own bidding; they are there to do ours. Just as I abhor the fact that our partisans in congress seem to think that a 51% majority when voting on a bill is an admirable achievement, I find it deplorable that a city council would ignore a large portion of their constituents just because they hold the “majority” power. They represent all of us, not just those that voted them in. Our city council members are not immune to overlooking this fact. As I mentioned in my previous blog, part of the majority’s responsibility is to represent, as well as protect the minority. (Vote Your Conscience)
I hope that during the November elections, the voting public keeps all of this in mind as they research the issues, educate themselves on the candidates and mark their ballots. Please, research the issues and candidates on the ballot and don’t think you are shirking your civic duty by abstaining from voting for issues or position that you don’t understand.