National City business-owner: “The city keeps taxing the poorest”
Herman Baca has been a small-business owner in National City for 40 years. Every year, he has paid for a business license for all those years, so when he renew the license earlier this year, he was surprised to find a new administrative fee attached to the regular tax.
It was only $10.50, but it wasn’t the amount, Baca said, it was the principle behind the so-called “administrative fee.”
“It was an illegal tax,” Baca said recently at his Aztec Printer shop. “The city knew it was illegal, but they still established it.”
The fee began last year, and it charged $21.50 for new businesses and $10.50 for existing businesses.
In total, the city raised $39,000 from the fee.
Baca said that on Oct. 20 he filed a class-action claim against National City with two goals: first, that the city would stop collecting the $10.50 administrative fee, and second, that the city reimburses business-owners for the money raised through that fee.
That same day, National City announced that it was going to stop collecting the fee, mainly because of the result of a court rule in August in the City of San Diego that stated that a similar fee there was an unconstitutional tax. The court stated that the San Diego fee needed to be approved by voters first.
“National City didn’t agree to give up the fee, they were forced to do so because of the court ruling,” Baca said. “Now they have to reimburse that money because they didn’t have a right to collect it on the first place.”
But Mayor Ron Morrison said the city didn’t know the fee was illegal until the court ruling. He said that the city has asked City Attorney George Eiser how to handle the fee.
“He will bring back with options by the end of November,” Morrison said.
But Baca said there’s only one option: “There was no legal or ethical grounds to charge that fee. They have to refund the money immediately,” he said.
National City Chamber of Commerce President Jacqueline Reynoso said she wasn’t aware of the administrative fee. She said none of the chamber’s members brought it to their attention or complained about the fee.
Another issue that Baca said he’s looking into is the housing inspections in National City.
He said that the city is charging housing inspection fees to landlords of rentals, but the city is not completing those inspections. Also, Baca said that residents of those rentals have no say on when the inspection should be completed.
“Those inspections, when completed, are done without warning for the tenant,” he said. “And the inspection fee, ultimately is paid for by the tenants.”
Morrison said that the city took over rental inspections from the county last year because the county wasn’t completing the inspections. The mayor said that it is now in the hands of the city housing rentals will be properly inspected for the safety of tenants.
He said the city has two housing inspectors, but it also uses inspectors from other departments to complete the inspections.
For Baca, who is president of the Committee on Chicano Rights, all of these issues once again prove that this is just another slap on the face to residents and small-business owners in National City.
“They keep taxing the poorest residents of the poorest city in San Diego County,” he said.