Malibu Chamber of Commerce opposes sales tax measure

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The president says 20 percent of the membership responded to a survey, with more than 80 percent opposing the sales tax. The head of the proponents’ campaign said she is not concerned about the opposition.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor and Lesley Lotto Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Chamber of Commerce voted last Wednesday to formally oppose the half-cent sales tax proposal that will go before city voters in June. Chamber President Christine Rodgerson said the vote came after it received surveys back from 20 percent of its membership, with more than 80 percent being opposed to the measure. Laura Rosenthal, who co-chaired the committee that drafted the proposal, said she was not concerned about the chamber’s opposition.

If approved, the measure would raise the sales tax rate in Malibu from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. According to the proposal, the money generated from the tax would go toward “law enforcement, parks and open space acquisition.” Rodgerson said that was too vague.

“It seemed a lot of criticism on the tax [from chamber members] was that it would go toward a very vague block of things,” she said. “It could be schools. It could be law enforcement. It’s just too vague.”

But Rodgerson said the major reason for the chamber opposition was because no economic study had been conducted to determine how the tax would affect local businesses. Although proponents have said the tax would be mostly on tourists, she said she has received no proof that this is true. Rodgerson said that an economic study could determine whether a sales tax increase would actually only affect tourists. But for now, she said she is concerned a tax increase could add to the perception that Malibu is an expensive place to shop.

“Everybody already thinks we’re expensive enough,” Rodgerson said. “Whether or not that’s true, the perception is there. And this will only increase that perception.”

Rosenthal said while she understands why the chamber is opposing the measure, she believes they are making a mistake by doing so. She also noted that chamber opposition does not necessarily translate to Malibu residents voting against the measure, because according to a source she said she has in the chamber, 70 percent of its membership does not live in Malibu. The chamber could not be reached to verify the accuracy of that claim.

Rosenthal admitted she did not have proof that the sales tax would affect tourists, rather than Malibu residents, but she noted anecdotal evidence that businesses depend mostly on tourism for their money.

“The numerous store owners that I have talked to say that their grocery receipts go dramatically up in the summer and weekends, and that’s when people come into Malibu,” Rosenthal said. “And when the highway shuts down, there is no business.”

Rosenthal said some of her fellow proponents are working on finding proof that most of the sales tax money would come from tourists, but she said it is difficult since credit card receipts cannot be tracked.

Rosenthal added that a major reason why the tax should be presented to the voters now, rather than waiting until after an economic study is conducted, is because Malibu does not want to risk the county passing a sales tax first. Although Malibu could still pass another one after that, Rosenthal said to try a city sales tax hike after the county has approved one would be too much to ask from the voters.

The county attempted to get a sales tax approved in November. The money generated from that would have gone toward law enforcement, but it failed to garner the necessary two-thirds approval for passage. The Malibu sales tax proposal also requires a two-thirds approval.