Following a vote by the Crescent City Harbor District to forgo hiring an outside firm to conduct a tax study, more information was made available to the Triplicate about a small survey showing that a majority of those polled would support increased taxes to keep the port open.
Crescent City-based LifeStyles Research Company, which is owned by Del Norte County Supervisor Bob Berkowitz, authored “Saving the Harbor 2018’ Political Research Survey”.
From Jan. 22 through Jan. 26, the firm surveyed 95 registered voters most likely to vote in a Del Norte County election, giving an equal weight of 20 percent to participants in each of the five county districts. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The poll comes after months of discussion amongst harbor commissioners about a potential tax initiative to raise enough revenue to pay down a $5.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. The loan was used to rebuild the port following tsunamis in 2006 and 2011 as well as finance a slew of needed repairs.
LifeStyles Research Company was one of six firms to submit proposals to the Crescent City Harbor District to conduct a more formal poll on whether Del Norte voters would support a tax initiative to keep the port afloat.
On Friday, Berkowitz declined to discuss the survey his firm authored, stating that it was paid for by a private individual.
“I’m not at liberty to say anything about the survey other than if the person who paid for it wants me to say something and gives me permission, then I’m at liberty,” he said. “I can’t talk about it without that person’s permission.”
Berkowitz also declined to state who paid for the survey.
When asked who funded the survey, harbor Commissioner Wes White, who brought the results to his colleagues’ attention at the district’s Feb. 6 meeting, said the individual wished to remain anonymous. White told the Triplicate he had spoken to the harbor district’s legal counsel, Bob Black, who said that since that information wasn’t disclosed to the other commissioners, it wasn’t public information.
The survey starts by asking people to state which issue is the most important to them: the plight of the homeless people, repairing local roads and highways, being more aggressive on crime, maintaining a viable harbor or economic development.
Of the 95 people polled, 43.4 percent stated that repairing local roads and highways were the most important, while 25.1 percent that economic development was most important to them. Maintaining a viable harbor ranked four out of the five examples given in the survey.
In its second question, however, “Saving the Harbor 2018” informs those polled that the local harbor commission says it only has enough funds to operate for the next three years and may be forced to close. It asks people whether they would support additional taxes to keep the port open and functioning.
According to the survey, 63.1 percent said yes, while 36.8 percent said no.
The survey broke down the answers to the second question by county supervisor district, noting the district offering the most support for additional taxes that would benefit the harbor comes from those who live in the 5th District, which includes areas close to the port. The next highest level of support, 65 percent, comes from District 2, which includes parts of Crescent City, according to the survey.
The survey also broke down the answers by those who were registered Republican or Democrat. Of those Republicans who responded to the survey, 59 percent said they would support an additional tax benefitting the harbor. Of the Democrats surveyed, 66 percent said they would support an additional tax, according to the survey.
In the summary of his survey, Berkowitz noted that 63.1 percent of the survey group supporting an additional tax is a very high number given the recent 0.25 percent sales tax increase to benefit the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.
“Because the yes side was so high with so few number of survey participants, I would suggest that you might want to have another survey that would either support or reject the findings in this survey,” Berkowitz writes.
On Tuesday, however, the harbor district board unanimously decided to forego hiring a firm that would conduct additional polling to determine whether the community supports a tax initiative to benefit the port. Instead, commissioners are monitoring the progress of a citizens initiative, “Save the Harbor 2018,” which is being spearheaded in part by the Del Norte Fisherman’s Marketing Association.
The initiative would increase the transient occupancy tax that visitors staying at hotels and motels in the county pay from 8 percent to 10 percent. It would also establish a 2 percent transient occupancy tax on RV campsites in the county. The revenue generated by this tax would help the harbor make its loan payments.
County Clerk-Recorder Alissia Northrup said she is examining the “Save the Harbor 2018” petition. Representatives of the initiative will then be cleared for the signature-gathering phase, she said.
However, it’s uncertain at this point whether a 2/3rds majority vote or a simple majority vote would be required for the “Save the Harbor 2018” initiative to be successful.
Up until about six to eight months ago, the presumption would have been that the initiative would need a 2/3rds vote to pass, Black said. However following a California Supreme Court case involving the Southern California city of Upland, some lawyers and political professionals think the law may change, he said.
“If it’s a citizens initiative, in other words citizens go out and gather signatures and they force this issue to go on the ballot, a citizens initiative, it’s possible that it would be only a majority vote,” Black said. “That is an open legal question. I believe some cities or counties or districts are trying to get a case moving forward in the judicial system that would answer that question. But there is no specific answer right now.”
Black said it may be up to the county counsel’s office or the Board of Supervisors to decide whether a citizens initiative would be successful with a simple majority vote or a 2/3rds majority vote.
“This thing as I understand it is targeted to go to the November 2018 ballot. There may not be an answer prior to people going to the polls and voting,” he said. “People need to decide whether they’re for it or against it almost regardless of how much it’s going to take to pass it.”
Although, Black said, whatever decision the county counsel or the Board of Supervisors make regarding the citizens initiative could be challenged in court.
“It seems inevitable to me there would be a lawsuit challenging the county counsel’s determination,” he said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .