Aquarium Not Biting on Measure P

Oct 20, 2016

Thirteen cities in California raise funds through an admission tax, including San Francisco and Santa Cruz. The city of Pacific Grove wants to add its name to the list through Measure P, but some big players are voicing strong opposition.

The proposal is a 5% admission tax on tickets and memberships to museums, movies, 5k fun runs, lectures and golf courses.  Basically the tax applies any place that charges an entry fee.

Organizations would be responsible for collecting the tax and would have to decide whether to raise prices or eat the cost. Either way, 5% of the ticket price would go into Pacific Grove’s General Fund. For example, a single adult ticket to the Monterey Bay Aquarium priced at $49.95 would raise $2.50 for the city.

“We anticipate it could generate potentially as much as $4 million. It could certainly be less, but it could also be more,” says Ben Harvey, Pacific Grove City Manager. 

The money would help pay for things like better trail and street maintenance.  That's something Harvey says the city can’t afford without new revenue. Just a few blocks from Pacific Grove City Hall, he points out a broken and rusty storm drains at the intersection of Laurel and 15th Street.

“It is in dire need of replacement,” Harvey says.  Further up 15th Street, an uneven sidewalk is missing a big chunk of concrete.

“We are a world class community. We’re a destination,” Harvey says. “We are a community of homes where I believe the median home price is around $800,000. It’s time to really take care of our infrastructure. Sure, we could limp along for years and Band-Aid things, but eventually it’s just going to go to dirt.  I mean, that’s in fact, I can see there’s some dirt right there that is coming through. If you don’t take care of it, that’s ultimately what happens.”

Prior to coming to Pacific Grove, Harvey worked in the city of Avalon on Catalina Island, which has a 4% admission tax.  

“That was a reliable source of revenue that the city was able to use to help fund essential services,” says Harvey.

But Monterey Bay Aquarium Public Affairs Director Barbara Meister says the tax doesn’t make sense in Pacific Grove. 

“An admission tax, it makes sense for those cities that have a large for-profit sports stadium or performing arts complex or concert hall, and particularly if the city say has helped that venue to get started with tax breaks or some kind of subsidy,” Meister says.  

Sitting on a wooden bench on the Aquarium’s outdoor deck, Meister questions the legality of Measure P, saying only 20 percent of the building sits in Pacific Grove.  More so, she argues it just doesn’t make sense to tax the people around her.

“Our main focus here is environmental conservation and education and so it doesn’t make sense to tax activities that are for the public benefit,” says Meister.

The Aquarium started the Community Coalition Against Measure P. It has more than 10 member organizations, including Lighthouse Cinemas and non-profits like the Arthritis Foundation Central Coast. The foundation’s main fundraising event is the Jingle Bell Run at Lover’s Point, which would also be subject to the tax.

“To put a tax on top of admission, for us, really takes away some of the funds that could be allocated toward the good work we are doing in the community and the national level with research,” Arthritis Foundation Central Coast Executive Director Alexandra Fallon says.

Fallon and Meister say they understand Pacific Grove needs new revenue but say Measure P is not the answer. Meister adds the Aquarium does contribute to the city’s budget through sales tax collected at its cafe and gift shops, roughly $200 thousand a year. That’s on top of driving visitors to the area.

“The city of Pacific Grove does benefit from visitors who come to the Aquarium and stay in their hotels and B&Bs, eat in the restaurants, shop in their shops,” Meister says.

Pacific Grove City Manager Ben Harvey agrees that’s a good thing.  “But it comes at a cost and that cost is also to our infrastructure,” says Harvey.

Voters will decide on Measure P on November 8th.