A small east Los Angeles County city with a strong industrial base has a lot to gain on Nov. 6—an estimated $4.5 to $5 million a year if voters approve a taxing measure placed on the ballot by the city council.
The City of Commerce may only have about 12,000 residents living in it’s four neighborhoods but thousands more visit the city on a daily basis for work or to visit some of the city’s main income generating businesses like the Citadel Outlets, Commerce Casino and Costco.
Mayor Lilia R. Leon has been giving a series of speeches in the city that have focused on informing voters about Measure AA, a half-cent sales tax initiative on the November ballot.
“This measure will provide an opportunity for our residents to become involved by participating and voting ‘Yes’ on Measure double-A,” Leon said at a State of the City Address at the Commerce Senior Center last week.
The tax equates to 50 cents on every $100 spent, and will generate an estimated $4.5 to $5 million a year, she said.
“This is money the state cannot take away from us. This money will be used for our infrastructure, to make sure and ensure that our facilities are maintained. And at the same time that we do not take away from our general fund or anymore services to our residents, or more importantly, fire and safety protection,” Leon said.
The city, which celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2010, has suffered from the “Great Recession” and for the first time since it’s incorporation, recently laid off seven employees due to the loss of redevelopment funds. The state forced the elimination of redevelopment agencies in February under Assembly Bill X1 26. Commerce and other cities used tax revenues collected through redevelopment to create housing and other projects that create revenues and countered the proliferation of blight.
“But in order for us to continue our vision of the future, we have to look outside the box,” said Leon. “We have to look at the future and how do we continue to provide funds for the city without depending on the state, because we don’t know what the state is going to do. We didn’t anticipate them taking redevelopment away, so we don’t know what is next,” the mayor told Commerce residents during her “State of the City” speech.
Leon noted the Citadel as a prime example of redevelopment in the city. “It used to be an old tire company and now it’s a thriving outlet where more than 50 million people visit that Citadel on a yearly basis,” she said.
The sales tax increase would bring in needed revenues to the city that has cut $6 million in its budget over the last four years, she explained.
The revenues would maintain law enforcement and fire service levels, and would help ensure that the city can provide services for our residents and industrial residents, like maintaining roads and facilities that are deteriorating. The funds would also prevent further reductions in services and city employee pay cuts.
Highlighting some of the city’s “treasures,” Leon noted the “the Brenda Villa Aquatics Center”—recently renamed after the Olympic Gold Medalist who grew up in the city—as well as the city’s “Camp Commerce” in Lake Arrowhead,” the city’s library which now allows laptops to be checked out, among other services and programs unique to the mostly industrial city.
Leon said the city council continues to fund programs, like the homework hotline and city’s scholarship program, because they are investments in the community’s future. “By building a stronger community, we build a stronger city,” she said.
While the city has avoided a major fiscal emergency, Leon said passing Measure AA is vital to protecting services and programs “while enhancing the quality of life for everyone who lives, works and visits here in the City of Commerce.”
During the meeting husband and wife, Ignacio Perez and Esperanza “Hope” Perez, asked the mayor some questions. Ignacio asked if Measure AA would affect property taxes. No, responded Leon. Hope asked if the tax would apply to residents shopping outside the city, like in Montebello. Again, Leon said no, explaining that the sales tax would only apply to taxable purchases made in the City of Commerce.
After the meeting, the Perez’s told EGP they supported the measure and compared it to Pico Rivera’s sales tax. The sales taxes in Pico Rivera didn’t stop shoppers from going to the city, so they say they are not concerned it will deter sales in Commerce. For the first time in the city’s history, Commerce’s roads have potholes, they said, explaining why they think more revenue is needed.
Commerce Employee Association leader Kevin Larson told EGP the labor union supports the sales tax increase.
“Commerce is unique in that the vast majority [of sales tax] doesn’t come from residents but from visitors,” Larson said, explaining the residents would benefit from the sales tax without paying all of it.
Citadel Outlets Managing Partner Steve L. Craig has endorsed Measure AA, Leon said.
In a letter to the mayor and city council earlier this month, Craig indicated that maintaining and enhancing the city’s retail and entertainment district, and its infrastructure is in the best interest of businesses.
“Given that 60 percent of the City’s Annual Operating Budget is derived from businesses located on this one and a half mile stretch of Telegraph Road, between Washington Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, enhancing and beautifying this infrastructure becomes all the more important,” he wrote.
“We support Measure AA as a mechanism to provide much needed financial resources to the City of Commerce, to make such infrastructure improvements along with other city wide improvements. We further recognize the need to make $35 million dollars of overall infrastructure improvements to attract new businesses, grow existing business and improve the overall quality of life in the community.”
Following her speech, Leon said she and her fellow members on the city council and city staff are available to answer questions from residents who call or visit City Hall.
The last of the State of the City addresses is scheduled for tonight, Oct. 25, at 6:30pm at Veterans Park Meeting Room, 6364 Zindell Ave.