Pulido Declares Opposition to Santa Ana’s Downtown Business Tax

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido said Monday he opposed allowing a controversial downtown property tax to continue, the mayor’s first declaration on the issue since he was given the OK by the city attorney to vote on the tax district.

City Attorney Sonia Carvalho deemed that Pulido, who has declined to vote on the tax district since it was formed in 2008 because of a possible financial conflict of interest, doesn’t have a conflict after all. The Pulido family’s auto care shop has existed within, but now adjacent to, the tax district.

Pulido made his announcement during Monday night’s City Council meeting. He is the latest council member to change his mind about the tax district and join a council bloc that is seeking to end the tax.

The block now has a firm 4-2 majority, with Councilwoman Michele Martinez prevented from voting because of a conflict of interest. Four votes are required to dismantle the tax district.

For nearly two years, a group of anti-tax property owners has been fighting to dissolve the tax district, which funds a booster organization known as Downtown Inc. charged with cleaning and promoting the downtown core. The opponents argued that the tax produces no benefits for them and places a heavy economic burden on their businesses.

Downtown Inc. proponents say the organization is vital to the momentum of a downtown revitalization and point to a modest spike in sales tax, driven mainly by a restaurant and bar scene popular with young patrons. Irv Chase, a major downtown property owner, has argued that without a new direction, what was already an economically sagging area will suffer a depression.

When the anti-tax movement began, council members unanimous supported the tax and Downtown Inc. But council members one-by-one changed their minds after persistent opposition from the activists.

Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, who during a 2011 council meeting had told pro-Downtown Inc. property owners not to listen to “chicken littles” spreading concern about Downtown Inc.’s fate, was the first to oppose the tax and has since made dissolving it her signature issue.

Nearly two years ago, Pulido was also a suporter of Downtown Inc.

"Tell this council what you want to do, and you'll find this council will be very supportive," Pulido said during the Jan. 18, 2011, council meeting. "We're your friends, your cheerleaders and your partners. Your success is our success."

Yet Pulido has faced opposition to the tax not only from activists but from within his family as well. Miguel Pulido’s brother, Jose Pulido, publicly denounced the tax after he said it caused his family’s auto care shop to be delinquent on thousands of dollars in property tax bills.

Carvalho decided that Pulido had no conflict after the state Fair Political Practices Commission advised that the mayor of Montebello had no conflict of interest. The Montebello mayor’s situation corresponded to Pulido’s — a family trust from which he receives no income, Carvalho said.

But rather than vote to set a hearing to disestablish the district — a move Alvarez has aggressively supported — Pulido said he would rather not vote to continue the tax, thereby letting it expire.

Council members recently did not approve submitting the tax to the Orange County assessor’s office. The tax is entering the last year of its five-year life span and could end if the council again doesn’t approve submitting the tax to the assessor’s office in 2013.

Meanwhile, the two sides have agreed to renew talks and have settled on an independent mediator, according to Carvalho. Both sides have threatened lawsuits over the issue, but Carvalho said agreeing to talk is a good first step.

“I just think it’s great that we’ve got both sides to sit down and talk,” Carvalho said.

And while Pulido voiced opposition to the tax, he also delivered a message of unity to both sides of the issue and the downtown, which has been fraught with contention between various groups over gentrification, Latino identity, a fragile art scene and even control of a possible farmers market.

“We all need to be working in good faith to make this one downtown and one city,” Pulido said.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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