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Time marches on 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? Maybe. Whenever I finally figure out what that means, I'll remember to forget it. Just like the rest of this year. I can't wait. Has this been a doozy of a set of 365 days or what? You don't have to answer that. I'll understand if you're so eager to mentally move on that you don't.

To recap, 2005 started with a mouse invasion and went on to include a war on transients, homeless deaths, blazing fires, more homeless deaths, craziness in Atascadero, craziness in Los Osos, craziness in Atascadero again, craziness in Los Osos again, craziness well, you get the picture. There was violence, death, and mayhem. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Crime sprees, legal tussles, and ethically questionable dealings. Every local Tom, Dick, and Harry should be sick, tired, and bored of it all.

In the spirit of moving on and of giving your brain a wracking instead of a wrecking I have something to tell you to get you into the real 2007 spirit: I have an unusual ability.

No, it's not what you're thinking. Well, maybe it is. And if you're thinking what I'm thinking, it's everything you've heard it to be. But despite what we're thinking, I'm talking about how once a year, oh, around New Year's Eve or so, I go into a sort of trance and see everything that will unfold for the next year, but from the other side. It's a gift. It's a nightmare. It's a blessing and a curse, all rolled into one.

But enough talking about the thing itself. Onto the magic.

For 2007, I foresee a year of changes. Great changes. Great and terrible changes. Except where it matters. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as people say when they want to sound profound without saying much, which is a pretty good descriptor for me lately. Fortunately, this next year will give me plenty of material, some of which will have sprung from this last year's material.

Bruce Gibson, replacing Shirley Bianchi as a supervisor in San Luis Obispo County's 2nd District, will bring a swift and decisive end to the Los Osos sewer confusion. Everything will fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle, and the cease-and-desist orders won't actually aw, who am I kidding? I don't have the magic. I can't see into the future. I never could. The best I can do is rehash the past.

Take the Downtown Association please! Nah, I'm just joking. Don't take it anywhere. The day after Thanksgiving kicked off the busiest shopping season of the year, but in the midst of the hopes of revenue rolling in, some downtown business owners were grumbling about the dollars they were shelling out. New Times heard from a few who mentioned that they're not exactly thrilled with the way business license-renewal taxes and Downtown Association assessment fees are collected.

The people who collect the funds supposedly trust that everyone will pay what they're supposed to pay. I guess it's like an honor system, though not everyone thinks that honor is what motivates each and every person who opens a wallet to fork over the necessary dollars. "Sure that's all I owe! No, I'm not winking. I got some splinters in my eye from that tree getting cut down."

Tax monies (yes, it's a real word) help the city keep us safe from criminals and broken ankles by maintaining our police force and sidewalks. Those funds help with other stuff, too. Assessment fees help finance the Downtown Association's promotion of things like Farmers' Market and the recent Christmas parade and Santa's house in Mission Plaza. If you sat on Santa's lap in San Luis Obispo this past month, you can thank your friendly neighborhood shopkeepers who provided an honest and accurate account of their receipts under the city's five-year tax verification (some people apparently balked at having to put up every year) and amnesty program, and boo and hiss at anyone out there who didn't.

If you didn't sit on Santa's lap, you have nobody to blame but yourself. He was there long enough, and you couldn't spare a couple of minutes? Just to drop by? Oh, and when's the last time you called your mother?

The city's director of finance, Bill Statler, has said that businesses found guilty of not paying the proper amount after an audit are asked to comply in the future and typically aren't required to pay any back fees or penalties or anything. It's a forward-looking program, he explained. Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear and all that, so let's not look behind us.

Plus, he explained even more, just about everybody pays the way they're supposed to, so there really isn't much of a problem at all. Of course, if you never look back over your shoulder, you'll never see it coming. What's the "it" of which I speak? History repeating itself. Or something similar.

If downtownies were complaining about rising vendor fees and such over the summer when the city apparently won for the 20th time or so an award for excellence in financial reporting from some group that hands out such niceties and have been talking about a suspected collection eyebrow-raiser this winter, they're probably going to at least whisper and wonder about it when 2007 rolls around, even if the guy in charge says that it's not really an issue. Even Downtown Association Board President Doug Shaw has said that his group wants enough money to be able to do what it wants to do. But where's that cash going to come from?

Just because nobody knows if or how many people are holding back a chunk of bucks when it comes time to pay up doesn't mean that it's not happening. One guy said that you couldn't even run a cotton-candy machine downtown on what he hears some folks are reporting.

Maybe a lot of people are under-reporting their receipts so they can save a little when it comes time to give back. Maybe only a few are. The point is that nobody's really sure. Is there a way to make sure? I mean, besides assuming that business owners act like everybody else when it comes to paying taxes? I'm not sure, but I am sure that I'm not exactly brimming with confidence that somebody else will make sure this next year. That's just how people are. If 2006 taught us anything and I'm not holding my breath it's that people don't change. After all, the year is wrapping up and we're still hearing about homeless issues, crime, murder, mayhem, Los Osos, Atascadero, and all the rest. Fortunately, I haven't seen any indications of a mouse invasion yet, but the new year isn't over. I already can't wait for 2008.

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