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Politics

Measure S: Voters Appear To Reject Lemon Grove Sales Tax

The Lemon Grove sign is pictured, Jan. 21, 2020.
Roland Lizarondo
The Lemon Grove sign is pictured, Jan. 21, 2020.
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UPDATE: 7:30 a.m., March 4, 2020

The majority of voters appear to have rejected a Lemon Grove initiative to raise the city's sales tax in a bid to fix an ongoing budget deficit, which could mean the city becomes part of unincorporated San Diego County.

More than 59% of voters said no to Measure S.

Original story

The city of Lemon Grove has been financially struggling for years, with a projected deficit of $400,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

A group of residents believes the only way to keep the city out of trouble is to raise the sales tax.

The group behind "Save Lemon Grove — Yes on S" wants to boost the sales tax from 7.75% to 8.5% on transactions in the city. They petitioned and gathered enough signatures to qualify for the March ballot.

“People believe in Lemon Grove and they see their city under threat. That made the response so much stronger,” said former Lemon Grove City Councilman George Gastil, who is one of the petitioners of the initiative.

He said Lemon Grove’s financial situation is so bad it may have to disincorporate as a city. That threat has motivated some residents to support the Measure S.

Gastil said the new tax money will mostly pay for public safety, as fire and sheriff’s contracts go up each year.

“We also could be improving our parks. We can be improving our streets and we can be promoting economic development," he said. "This is going to benefit businesses in the long run because businesses benefit from a clean city, from a safe city, from a city where people feel confident and people want to spend time. And a stronger city makes for a stronger business sector.”

Further, Gastil said the measure goes beyond sales taxes in stores. He said there will also be more effective collection of online sales, the combination of which would raise about $2.9 million for the city.

Former Lemon Grove City Councilwoman, Mary England, visits The Grove Grinder restaurant in Lemon Grove on January 21, 2020.
Maya Trabulsi
Former Lemon Grove City Councilwoman, Mary England, visits The Grove Grinder restaurant in Lemon Grove on January 21, 2020.

Mary England served on the Lemon Grove City Council for three terms and said the majority of the people who signed the petition weren’t told the whole story.

“We're not saying we're against the tax. We're not against it. We're not trying to shut the city down. But a lifetime tax in this city is wrong for a lot of reasons.”

England currently lives in La Mesa, but still owns property in Lemon Grove where her family moved to 1963. She says if the measure had a sunset clause that eventually expired, she may be able to support it.

“So the sales tax proposed right now is for life, cradle to grave. We believe (that) is totally wrong. A lifetime tax for this small community is ridiculous. We think it's a lazy way to fix a problem,” England said.

Gastil said calling Measure S a lifetime tax is misleading.

"The measure would be no more permanent than any other policy the voters might approve," he said. "If the voters ever feel they don't want this tax, they can get rid of it just as easily as they can pass it in the first place."

England, for her part, responded to the threat of disincorporation, calling it a scare tactic. She said supporters of Measure S have mischaracterized what would be a very lengthy, multi-step process.

“If it even went down that road of disincorporation, the voters of Lemon Grove have to vote on it, and that's not being told to them either,” she said.

While Measure S is on the March ballot, it is subject to a lawsuit. Opponents argue Measure S should not be validated, even if voters approve it, because members of the committee behind Measure S did not correctly circulate the petition.