Stanton city officials have taken to the streets to fight a November ballot measure that would repeal the city’s one-year-old sales tax.
In 37 community meetings and in a stream of communications from City Hall, officials tell residents the tax is essential to the city’s survival – and that its victory at the polls in 2014 was a local, grassroots effort. They say supporters of the repeal are outsiders.
The community meetings, called Talks with the Block, run on that insider/outsider impulse.
“Just because you’re rich and wealthy doesn’t give you the right to come and repeal our votes,” 28-year council veteran David Shawver told a Stanton audience in March. “We have the full support of everybody, and we make the decisions!”
In fact, the November 2014 campaign to promote the tax was funded primarily by outsiders – the county’s powerful firefighter and sheriffs unions, documents reviewed by California Policy Center reveal.
Sheriffs and firefighters who work in the city have much to gain from the sales tax. City officials say the tax brings in $1.5 million annually. This year, the city will pay an additional $1.1 million for public safety alone, most of that for the escalating pay and benefits of its $236,155-per-year firefighters and $187,000-per-year sheriff’s deputies.
Those are extraordinary pay packages, even in relatively affluent Orange County. And they stand out in Stanton, where the median yearly household income is $46,000 and 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
The documents, which the city turned over following a California Policy Center public records request, show that the pro-tax campaign Yes on Stanton 9-1-1 received total 2014 contributions of $40,399 from three sources, two of them (maybe all three: hold, please) outsiders. The deputy sheriffs union gave $21,700, a bit more than half of all contributions. The county firefighters union gave the pro-tax campaign another $12,700. Together, the unions’ contributions accounted for 85 percent of the pro-tax campaign’s income.
But that number jumps when you include the one local contributor to the pro-tax campaign, council member David Shawver. The firefighters gave Shawver’s campaign committee $4,043.60 during the same election cycle, and Shawver in turn gave the pro-tax campaign $5,999.
Taken together, one could argue county firefighters union gave the pro-tax campaign a total of $16,743, and that Shawver’s real contribution to the pro-tax campaign (besides tactics) was just $1,955. In other words, outsiders gave the pro-tax initiative $38,443.60 – or 95 percent of all contributions to the pro-tax campaign.
But that’s not the message of city officials like Shawver. Without the sales tax increase, there’d be fewer cops, Shawver told the March gathering. He asserted that backers of the November measure to repeal the tax would cut public safety “50 percent.” No one questioned the number. Nor did anyone ask how much the county’s public-safety officers earn in pay and benefits.
“There are no finer government agencies than the OCSD and OCFA,” Shawver said of the agencies responsible for providing Stanton with deputies and firefighters. “I’m not going to fool you. Public safety is expensive, but I am concerned with maintaining the level of service that you demand.”
Who could oppose public safety? Outsiders, said Mayor Pro Tem Carol Warren.
“The group that’s against us, they live down in Newport, they live in Irvine, they all live in South County. They’re all wealthy. They don’t live here. They’ve just picked our city because we’re a small city and they want to control us. We’re low-hanging fruit.”
The desire to “control” Stanton seems a psychological abstraction – it’s never clear to what concrete end the outsiders want to control one of the county’s poorest and most violent cities – and at 3.1 square miles, it’s smallest. But the audience seemed satisfied with the explanation.
Warming to a boil, Shawver, a Republican with close ties to public employee unions, underscored Warren’s psychological analysis. “The rich, South County outsiders are going to try to get rid of our city council members,” he said. “They want their own people so they can control what goes on in our city.
“It’s time to tell the people who don’t live here to get the heck out of our city!”
The crowd roared its support.