Business tax proposal moves ahead in Palo Alto

September 18, 2019

Council split on the details but supports putting tax measure on 2020 ballot
by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto will start reaching out to businesses about a proposed measure, possibly a business tax, to pay for transportation projects, the City Council decided at its Sept. 16 meeting. File photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto forged ahead Monday in its long march toward placing a business tax on the 2020 ballot when the City Council majority signaled its support for charging local companies to pay for big-ticket transportation projects.

The council did not specify Monday whether the tax would be based on employee count, which is the most common practice by cities in the region, on payroll or on square footage. Nor did members reach a consensus on whether this will be a "special tax" that requires a two-thirds voter majority to pass or a "general tax" that only requires a simple majority. But after hours of sausage-making, members rallied around a long motion proposed by Councilman Tom DuBois that authorizes the city to start polling residents and reaching out to businesses about the proposed measure.

By a 6-1 vote that in some ways belied the divisions on the council, members generally endorsed the decision by the Finance Committee, which agreed that the business tax should focus on transportation and affordable housing and that the city should consider other mechanisms, including a possible bond, for funding other community needs, including redevelopment of Cubberley Community Center and the next phase of the Junior Museum and Zoo reconstruction.