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How Chula Vista is spending money from its recent sales tax measure

Going forward, the Chula Vista Police Department will use Measure A tax revenues to buy 20 patrol cars and expand its drone program.

In 2018, Chula Vista voters passed the measure, which increased sales taxes in the city to fund a big increase in public safety staffing. And thanks to the tax, which generates more than $20 million each year, the city has been able to hire 40 more police officers.

Measure A is a general tax, which means that the revenues can be spent on any city service, not just on public safety. However, as part of their sales pitch to voters, city officials said the money would only be spent on hiring cops and firefighters. They even set up the Measure A Citizens' Oversight Committee to ensure that the revenues would be spent as promised.


Public messaging in support for Measure A focused on “boots on the ground” messaging to hire personnel. But the measure's fine print identified expenses on items such as police vehicles.

The City Council keeps amending the expenditure plan, and the oversight committee keeps approving the amendments. They have used the money to purchase ambulances for the fire department and change some of the positions they hire for.

The original 10-year expenditure plan allocated $1 million to police vehicles. The latest amendment, the one that includes extra patrol cars and drones, calls for $8.6 million to police vehicles.

This has some Chula Vista residents worried. They’d like other underfunded municipal services to also be considered. Among them is Russ Hall who led the opposition movement against the measure in 2018.

He believes that using Measure A tax dollars to buy more patrol cars and expand the drone program is appropriate as long as the staffing needs have been met.


“They say they have met those,” he said. “If that’s true, of course you are going to backfill these positions with equipment. So it makes sense that a second priority is the necessary tools and equipment to get the job done.”

Yet, even with the Measure A money, Hall is concerned about the level of spending on public safety at the expense of other municipal services.

Nearly 75% of the city’s general fund spending is devoted to public safety, according to the 2022-2023 budget. Meanwhile, the library department accounts for 2% and the economic development department accounts for less than 1%.

Hall has seen the library reduce hours, City Hall close down on Friday and reductions in other city services — even as the police and fire department budgets increase.

“Is what the city of Chula Vista doing with public safety sustainable, and at what costs?” he said. “What are we giving up in the rest of our city government that’s going by the wayside? Do the streets still get fixed?”

Hall said he supported law enforcement. But he is concerned about the long-term financial future of Chula Vista.

“These things have to be talked about because these are commitments that affect everything else in the city,” he said.

Chula Vista is projected to have a $10.5 million budget general fund deficit in fiscal year 2029 and a $12 million deficit in 2030, according to the city’s 2023-2032 long-term financial plan.

The deficit is projected to decrease to $3.4 million by fiscal year 2032, however.

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.