Needles Citizens Group Seeks To Undo Annexation

Local dissatisfaction with excessive taxes in the smallest, and in some estimations, the most economically challenged city in San Bernardino County has led one Needles activist to author a local voter initiative that could send reverberating shock waves across California’s local communities should it pass.
The initiative, which Ruth Musser-Lopez refers to as the Prohibition Against Taxable Reorganizations Without A 2/3 Majority Vote Act, if passed, would amend the Needles City Charter to prohibit the city’s council from taking action to reorganize or annex the city’s territory into any taxable district or similar legal structure “where a fee or tax already exists or where there are provisions for, the ability to, and or, intent to tax or charge fees, without a consenting vote of two-thirds of the electors voting on a proposition at any election at which the question of such reorganization is submitted to the voters.”
Often referred to as a microcosm of the larger political arena and used as a “proving ground” for new local ordinances, this would not be the first time that potential statewide legislation has been tested in Needles. Needles is the first city in the county to have locally legalized and imposed a tax on the sale of medical marijuana or cannabis.
The city charter amendment proposal comes on the heels of a related voter initiative for a new ordinance that would, if passed, essentially reverse the recent action by the city’s council to approve the annexation of the city’s territory into a taxed service zone of the San Bernardino County’s Fire Protection District. Filing the intent to circulate the proposed ordinance, former council members Ruth Musser-Lopez and Ed Mathews along with retired Needles High School teacher, Mary Stein, are determined to defeat what they consider to be the exaction of an excessive flat tax upon the poor, that would go directly into county coffers, leaving the city’s residents with no control over how it is spent. They also wish “to stop the county’s heist of our fire truck,” according to Mathews.
Musser-Lopez states that the charter amendment on top of the proposed ordinance is necessary to ensure that the loss of control over municipal functions to the county is not repeated. “It could be worse the next time,” she said. “Perhaps the council will vote to annex the city’s territory into the Metropolitan Water District, getting a lump sum compensation for the water supply, which funds could potentially go to raise salaries for a couple of years and line city employees’ pocketbooks and provide them with hefty benefits but leave the community without its own water and in poverty forever. A charter amendment could prevent that. One voted in place by the people can only be voted away by the people.”
In addition to the overarching charter amendment, the ordinance being submitted to the voters would require the initiation of a process to reverse the council’s recent action to annex the territory within the City of Needles into the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District, by mandating the application for dissolution of any county fire district within its territory and arranging for a local fire department “start-up” tax at no more than 0.15% or $120.00. The proponents referred to the initiative as a “no-brainer” for the taxpayers, since it would amount to at least $28.00 less for every parcel than the $148 tax the county would impose, would keep the proceeds in local community control and would be limited to two years whereas the county’s annual fire services district tax had no end date.
The team awaits the state law-required preparation of a ballot summary and title by the city’s attorney expected in the coming week. While the law provides 180 days to collect signatures, the initiative proponents are confident that it will take them less than two weeks to collect the signatures. “There was a silver lining in the fact that First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and the county’s Local Area Formation Commission that he sits on forced us into learning the ropes on collecting signatures in this town,” Musser-Lopez said. “We now know who and where the bogus voters are—the over 100 voters and ‘residences’ they supposedly vote from that don’t exist, folks who are deceased, those who are illegally voting from out of state or are simply made up names. We also know which voters will likely sign the petition. We need 10% to get it on the November ballot…that’s only 160 valid signatures…15 percent less than the 25 percent that the Local Agency Formation Commission forced us to obtain if we wanted to put the fire district annexation on the ballot. We couldn’t get the 25 percent in the less than 21 days they gave us during the hottest time of the year. But we’ve got 16 people who are willing to get 10 valid signatures each. We hope that this council will think twice next time they get a negative ‘shout out’ from us.”
Musser-Lopez is currently the elected Congressional District 8 pledged Hillary Clinton delegate and will be voting on the presidential nomination later this month in Philadelphia.. She told the Sentinel that she will likely propose to the California Democratic Party a statewide legislative amendment similar to the charter amendment she authored for Needles that would hopefully be endorsed by the party at the next state convention to be held in San Diego in November.
“Flat taxes are exceedingly burdensome to the poor,” she said. “I think I may be able to convince the state Democrats to do something about the potential of similar local heists in cities statewide. This was a Republican-dominated council that found a way to get around Prop 13 and 218 and impose an outrageously excessive flat tax upon the poor without their consent. In some cases, owners of vacant lots are forced to pay a fire protection tax amounting to four or five times what they are currently paying on their property tax bill. Those living in mansions on the river pay the same fire tax as those who live in a shack who are barely able to pay their bills. ”

Leave a Reply