It appears there are some things that can be cured by throwing money at them, at least in the short-term. Then again, there are other problems that may never be solved even if it rained hundred dollar bills.
One of the former is homelessness. Two years ago, Los Angeles voters approved a $1.3 billion bond to help get people off the streets. Along with that, county voters approved a quarter-percent sales tax increase aimed at raising $355 million a year over 10 years, also meant to help people needing a hand up.
In May, a countywide homeless count — excluding Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach — saw the number of homeless residents drop from 57,794 to 53,195, the first decrease in four years. Homeless figures also fell in the city of Los Angeles, going from 33,138 to about 31,516 destitute residents, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). While that was happening, the number of homeless residents in Pasadena rose by 33 percent, from 347 last year to 462 this year. Keep in mind, however, that there were 1,216 homeless people in 2012 and 530 in 2016 — a 53 percent drop.
Another “fixable” problem regards public safety, especially when it comes to purchasing new firefighting equipment and making street repairs, of which city roads are in desperate need.
That’s the good news. On the other hand, there are some things that money may not be able to fix. One of them is the administration of Pasadena schools, given some of the challenges currently faced by public education.
In an age in which more children than ever are attending private schools, charter schools, or schools at home, public schools everywhere, including those in Pasadena, are facing an ongoing and potentially crippling funding crisis. That’s because as school populations shrink each year, so too does the bulk of state funding, which is allocated according to the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of students.
To help out in all three cases, the city is asking local voters to approve a three-quarter percent increase to the city’s sales tax—already among the highest of cities around the country. If approved, the city’s sales tax rate will jump from 9.5 to 10.25 percent.
That doesn’t sound like much on smaller items, but could add up with the city’s minimum wage going to $13 an hour and outrageous rents that are ever on the rise. It’s on things like automobiles, major appliances, computer equipment and other big ticket items that consumers will really feel the bite. The result could be losing those sales to stores in neighboring cities, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little told PW Deputy Editor André Coleman.
According to the ballot measure, the money will be used to upgrade fire stations “so firefighters, paramedics and stations can remain operational in a major earthquake to deploy and respond to the community’s major medical emergency, search, and rescue needs,” states the measure approved last week by the council for the Nov. 6 ballot.
Along with that, “the city seeks to maintain essential services for residents, includ1ng support for city-run children and youth afterschool and summer programs, and physical fitness and recreational opportunities at local parks, which keep Pasadena children safe.”
A third of the total funding of $21 million a year will be used to provide “educational support” for Pasadena public school students “by supporting quality classroom instruction, enrichment support, crisis intervention, and school safety and security.”
The next problem needing a funding infusion involves the city of Pasadena’s homeless residents, “especially those over 50 years of age.” This population has increased steadily over the last two years, “with the city now having one of the largest homeless populations in the San Gabriel Valley.”
It’s difficult to argue with any of these noble goals, until you learn that the council hasn’t approved a homeless housing project in three years, as the number of homeless seniors, those 55 and older, grew by 65 percent during that time, according to homeless advocate Anthony Monousos.
It’s also tough to turn away from school children, until you realize the school district knew it was losing kids and didn’t have the money but still spent itself into a state of near fiscal insolvency over the past several years. Coming under the threat of takeover by the county of Los Angeles, the board finally cut $14.2 million for the 2018-19 school year beginning in September, and could be $12 million in debt in two years, which could force more layoffs and possibly school closures.
No matter how well-intended, without more fiscal accountability on the part of local schools, and a firmer commitment to ending homelessness by the city, the answer from voters on both questions might well be no.