So Pas Community Survey Points to UUT Repeal ‘Not Likely’

Timothy McLarney of True North Research, the professional pollster, presents the Community Survey findings to the South Pasadena City Council. Photo by Steve Whitmore

South Pasadena’s utility tax that represents more than $3 million in the city’s budget will most likely not be repealed when voters go to the ballot box this November, according to a community survey prepared by a professional pollster.

Known as the Community Survey, prepared by True North Research and costing the city about $18,000, a section of the questionnaire focused on the Utility User Tax, known as the UUT, and its chances of getting repealed in November.

“It all depends on what happens as we move forward, but as of today the UUT will most likely not be repealed,” said Timothy McLarney, who co-wrote the survey for True North Research and presented the findings to the Council Wednesday evening.

Of the 593 people who participated in the survey, which has a 5 percent margin of error, about 70 percent indicated they would not repeal the UUT.

The UUT is a designated source of revenue for South Pasadena connected to cell phone bills, cable usage, electricity and gas bills. The ballot measure is being pushed by a Tea party faction known as the California Tax Limitation Committee.

If the utility user tax, known as the UUT, is voted down in November, the city will have to scramble to make up the loss that could lead to deep cuts, according to city officials.

City officials are prohibited from advocating for the UUT by state law but can provide information in the event the tax is eliminated. Furthermore, if voters want to keep the utility tax, they vote “no.” If they want to repeal the tax, they vote “yes.”

The UUT, representing about $3.5 million or 12 percent of the city’s general fund budget of $27.4 million, helps fund municipal services including police, fire protection, 911 emergency responses, libraries, parks and senior services.

The results were presented to South Pasadena’s City Council last Wednesday night during its regularly scheduled meeting. Councilmembers were pleased with the results that also indicated that nine out of 10 respondents said South Pasadena had an excellent quality of life.

The questionnaire needed more than 400 respondents to ensure an accurate reading of residents, McLarney said. And the ultimate number of 593 adults was a “very good return.”

“That’s an excellent number,” McLarney said. “The city received a very good rating.” McLarney also told the council that ratings for other cities fall between a low of 40 percent favorable to a high in the 80-percentile range.

“South Pasadena got a 95 percent rating,” McLarney said. “That’s a very good number.”

Councilmember Diana Mahmud wanted to know if McLarney could rate the city’s performance with other cities nationally. McLarney just repeated the lows and the highs, saying again, “South Pasadena got a very good number.”

The survey recruited respondents by using voter files, city-maintained files and privately sourced databases. A small percentage of respondents were also recruited in-person at local events. The survey was hosted at a secure, password-protected website that was administered between April 13 and April 29.

Under the heading, “Just The Facts,” the survey summarized its findings this way: “More than nine-in-ten respondents (95%) shared favorable opinions of the quality of life in South Pasadena, with 47% describing it as excellent and 48% as good. Just 4% of residents reported that the quality of life in the city is fair, while less than 1% used poor or very poor to describe the quality of life in South Pasadena.”

South Pasadena City Councilmembers were encouraged by the survey results, saying, in general, it confirms the long-standing view that the city is an excellent place to live but also shows that improvements should be made.

“Although our residents are overwhelmingly satisfied with the city’s municipal services, and quality of life, residents noted several priorities for improving the quality of life,” City Councilman Michael Cacciotti said in an earlier email to the Review. “These included improving infrastructure – city streets, sidewalks, reducing traffic congestion, addressing homelessness, (and) providing affordable housing.”

Councilman Robert Joe echoed those sentiments, saying all is good but the city can do better.
“The survey is very encouraging,” Joe said in an earlier interview. “It shows us that on the whole residents feel their quality of life is good and that the city is doing an excellent job with core services.  At the same time, the survey gives us some strong input on city priorities that the Council will be using to make decisions about next year’s budget.”

The council got its first look at the city’s draft budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 also at its Wednesday meeting. (See related story Pg. 1)

South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said the survey was undertaken because city officials wanted public input during the budget process for the next fiscal year 2018-2019. The city’s fiscal year runs from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. The survey required a minimum of 400 respondents to be a statistical accurate representation of the residents’ viewpoints, and it accomplished that with the 593 respondents.

True North Research out of Encinitas was selected to undertake the survey because, in large measure, the firm had been involved in helping the South Pasadena Unified School District get input on its recent ballot measure.

The 37-page survey includes a summary of the most important factual findings followed by a more detailed analysis of individual topics.