By Jim Shilander
The Coastal Advisory Commission may look into adding a proposal to an upcoming election ballot to consider increasing the city’s transient occupancy tax, and earmark the additional funds to pay for the proposed Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project.
Commission member Ken Nielsen noted that such proposals had passed recently in the San Diego County cites of Encinitas and Solano Beach as a part of a number of beach replenishment efforts in the county. He said these particular types of taxes were often more likely to pass than some others.
San Clemente does have a TOT in place. It currently sits at 10 percent and generated $1.46 million in 2011, according to the staff report.
According to state law, a special purpose tax must be passed by a two-thirds majority (66 percent) of city residents, in order to take effect.
The measure could be put on the next general election ballot in November 2014. A special election could also be called before that, but the cost for such a vote would be more than 10 times higher than adding a measure to the general election ballot. The commission could also ask the city council to divert some of the funds from the current collection toward beach replenishment.
The estimated cost of the Corps of Engineers project, which would put 250,000 yards of sand on San Clemente beaches, would be $4 million.
“They would not be paid by the citizens of San Clemente,” Nielsen noted. “They’d be paid by the transients. We’d be getting money from them for the sand they use.”
Commission chairman Bill Hart noted that hoteliers were usually opposed to such tax increases, since it made them less competitive. He also said the TOT currently goes into the general fund, which means that if money were redirected to replenishment, it would come out of another city program or project.
Assistant city engineer Tom Bonigut also noted that the city was again permitted to participate in opportunistic sand replenishment if sand became available. In 2004, the city used the program to put 5,000 yards of sand dredged from the Santa Ana River onto North Beach.
Beach replenishment needed to remain on the front burner for their board and the city, commission members said.
“I think the citizens of this city are really upset about the beach conditions,” commission member Michael Smith said. “We need to be proactive about it and do the best job as soon as possible.”
Commission member Peter Salgado, however, voiced concern about the scale of the Corps’ project. Salgado said he would favor closely monitored, smaller scale projects that would be less of a shock to citizens. His questions about the project, he said, had not been fully answered.
“You’re going to have people wondering what we’re doing,” Salgado said. “We need to gather the information, make the analysis and move forward.”
Hart acknowledged that the proposed project “wasn’t perfect,” but said that with no sign of beach erosion stopping, something needs to be done.
“We either act or we’ll end up with a rock sea wall protecting the railroad tracks,” Hart said. “This is a resource the city needs to protect.”