Clayton seeks help on housing

Clayton must move fast to get revenue measure on Nov. ­ballot

Clayton must move fast to get revenue measure on Nov. ­ballot
General Fund Projection Considering Unmet Needs. The above table shows what Clayton’s operating budget could look like starting as early as next year without increasing revenue. The red brings into sharp focus the need for a robust public education effort to get a tax measure on the November ballot. (Table by the Clayton City Staff)

CLAYTON, CA (Feb. 20, 2022) — The City Council is looking to put a parcel tax on the November ballot to stave off a looming $1 million budget deficit predicted by Fiscal Year 2030-31.

“Claytonians need to understand there is no Plan B. We have to do something,” Councilmember CW Wolfe said at the Feb. 1 meeting. “Otherwise, just take a look at all the red that is on the page.”

To counter the growing gap between revenue and expenses, city manager Reina Schwartz outlined options including a sales tax, a property tax based on assessed value, a parcel tax and an assessment district. She emphasized that the council had a short timeline, with a June 21 deadline to request a consolidated election with the county.

All five council members agree a general parcel tax is the best plan, but they are still finetuning the suggested $400 annual amount. However, they are clearly divided on whether to hire polling and communication consultants.

The ensuing discussion was exemplified by vice-mayor Holly Tillman advocating the importance of sending a unified message to the community regarding the need for a tax, while Councilmember Jeff Wan said he would tell voters whatever he thinks is fit and suggested that children create informational fliers to save money.

Making the message meaningful

Several council members noted that the city could benefit from the expertise of communication consultants.

“I think all five of us understand very clearly what is in front of us and what the challenges are,” Mayor Peter Cloven said. “I’m more worried about not getting the word out. About not being transparent. About not telling people what our situation is. We can’t afford to fail.”
“It’s easy to say we’ll put an ad in the Pioneer,” Wolfe said. “But we would need the help of a communications consultant to get to the proper channels – whether it be the Pioneer or a Town Hall meeting or whatever it is.”

Wan dismissed that philosophy.

“Are they going to come up with some new channel that as of yet is undiscovered?” he asked. “I mean, we’re tiny. That isn’t going to happen.”

Wan said any communication could be “workshopped” internally with staff who could “write pretty well” and create “minimal graphics” for fliers.

“You could have a contest at the school and the kids could do it – I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” he added. “The presentation is not as important as the content.”

Tillman noted the city is already “short-staffed on our tiny staff.” She also thinks a consultant could provide the council guidance on creating a clear message.

“I think whoever we can bring on board or elicit help from has to be able to construct the message that all of us are going to go out and say,” she said. “And if you look at the history the last few years, it’s been disjointed – right? So you’ve got people going out and saying different things, which has been a huge problem. We can’t afford to do that this year if we’re trying to have this on the ballot.”

Wan told Tillman he wouldn’t listen to a consultant’s advice.

“I’m going to say whatever message I think is appropriate,” he said, adding that he could inform voters in a “one-minute conversation” because “it’s a story that writes itself.”

Educate vs. advocate

City attorney Mala Subramanian and Schwartz reminded the council that public funds could only be used to inform or educate, not advocate.

“Some of the things I’ve heard council members say they want out there would not be done through use of public funds,” Subramanian said.

“It doesn’t mean that the power of information isn’t incredibly important,” Schwartz noted. “It’s important to be able to explain what we’re doing.”

Given the council’s hesitancy to spend money, Subramanian suggested using a consultant to poll voters but having staff work on communication.

“The polling consultant really tries to figure out what your community – Clayton – would support,” she said. “It goes back to what Reina was saying about how you want to put your best foot forward because you don’t want to keep coming back election cycle after election cycle if there is a failure.”

Schwartz said a polling firm’s help would be essential for writing the ballot statement.

“Trust me, people have an entire cottage industry over how to write ballot language,” she said. “This is not something we’re going to want to attempt on our own.”

But Wan said a polling consultant would only “tell us what we already know.” And, he said the city could “plagiarize” language from previous ballot measures.

Because of a lack of consensus on how to move forward, Schwartz will return to the council next month with more information about costs for consultants.

Bev Britton
Bev Britton
Copy Editor at The Concord Clayton Pioneer |

Bev Britton graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and moved to the Bay Area with her soon-to-be husband Jim in 1986. She was features editor at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek before becoming managing editor of the Contra Costa Sun in Lafayette in 1995. She retired from newsrooms in 2001, but an ad for the Clayton Pioneer drew her back in. The family moved to Lake Wildwood in the Gold Country a few years ago - but working at the Pioneer keeps her in touch with her old neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.