Mountain View voters will see two tax initiatives on their Nov. 6 ballots. Measures P and Q -- a business license update and a cannabis tax, respectively -- are both designed to pay for expanding city services without requiring much in the way of sacrifice from residents. If passed, the tax measures are expected to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million annually, which would help pay for transportation improvements, affordable housing and other services.
More than 3,600 licensed businesses are in Mountain View, ranging from flea market merchants to global tech corporations. But regardless of size, almost all businesses are paying roughly the same amount in license fees under the city's current system established more than 60 years ago.
Measure P would update that fee schedule so that license costs are tied to the size of each business. Put simply, big companies would be forced to pay substantially more while small businesses pay less. If approved, the measure is expected to generate about $6 million annually for Mountain View's general fund, which would be put toward future transit improvements and affordable housing.
The proposed tax structure would create a complex tiered fee system, which would only apply to businesses earning more than $5,000 a year. All other businesses would have to pay a flat $75 fee per year. In addition, companies would pay a headcount fee, which would increase with the size of the business. As an example on the lower end, Trader Joe's with its 63 employees would pay up to $75 for each worker, or a total of $1,420. In contrast, Intuit with its 2,100 workers in Mountain View would be charged up to $125 per worker, and the company would be expected to pay about $222,000 annually. A fuller explanation of the tiered tax structure can be found on the city's website, mountainview.gov. A graphic showing how much each business would pay can be found at the Voice's website.
In a league of its own with more than 23,000 employees in Mountain View, Google is slated for the largest increase by far if the ballot measure passes. The tech giant has paid just under $10,000 a year for dozens of licenses for its various operations around the city. Under the new fee schedule, the company would pay more than $3.5 million annually, or more than half the total fees expected to be collected by the city. This outsized impact on the tech giant has led some to call it the "Google tax."
City officials say the new tax system was designed so that the companies generating the most traffic into Mountain View would have to shoulder the costs of mitigating it. This is appropriate, they say, because most of the revenue would be put toward various transportation projects, including a local automated transit system linking the downtown transit center to North Bayshore, that's being studied by the city.
Google, the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have all declined to formally oppose Measure P, and no other organized opposition has emerged.
Measure P needs a simple majority to pass. If approved, the measure would be implemented in stages over the next three years.
Passed in 2016, Proposition 64 established California as the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana use. But while about two-thirds of Mountain View voters supported the proposition, until now the city had held off on allowing cannabis retailers to set up shop.
Measure Q is one piece of the city's plan to allow marijuana sales, within limits. If passed, it would establish a tax of up to 9 percent on all cannabis sales, which city officials believe would generate about $1 million for the city's general fund. That tax could be notched down by the City Council, but increasing it higher than 9 percent would require going back to voters.
The first step of the city's plan came just last week. On Oct. 2, the council voted 5-2 to allow two storefront shops and two delivery business to be established within city limits. Those businesses would need to apply for a conditional use permit through the city, and they would be restricted to certain areas of the city. That decision will be formalized in a second vote set for Oct. 23.
Currently, San Jose is the only Santa Clara County city to allow retail cannabis shops, although its dispensaries can deliver to nearby cities, including Mountain View. Campbell is expected to allow marijuana shops starting in April 2019. Most other South Bay cities have opposed local marijuana dispensaries.
While legalization received widespread support among California voters, citizens could be less enthusiastic about having cannabis retailers in their own neighborhoods. In Mountain View, the council's decision to sanction pot sales was met with fierce resistance by some public speakers, who claimed it would bring crime and safety hazards.
Supporters of the measure argue that the tax revenues created by cannabis sales could help fund better public safety and other services.
If approved by a simple majority, the Measure Q tax would be added on top of other fees, including a 15 percent state tax on cannabis sales established as part of Proposition 64. So far, there's been no formal opposition to the tax measure.