Los Angeles City Council members and Mayor James K. Hahn on Wednesday unanimously called on county supervisors to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to raise the sales tax by half a cent to pay for more police officers and sheriff's deputies.
Several council members also said that if the Board of Supervisors failed to act on a countywide measure, they would support putting a narrower proposal before city voters to raise the sales tax in L.A. to beef up the LAPD.
"We will have something on the ballot in November no matter what," Councilman Eric Garcetti said.
For months, Sheriff Lee Baca has been gathering signatures for his proposed county sales tax initiative. He wants to raise the county sales tax from 8.25% to 8.75% to generate an estimated $500 million each year for law enforcement.
The money would be divided into three roughly equal parts, going to the Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and cities in the county not policed by the sheriffs.
Los Angeles city officials estimate they would be able to hire 1,600 officers with the additional funds, bringing the total to about 11,000.
The measure would take a two-thirds vote to pass, but a poll taken earlier this year by the Policy Institute of California and the School of Policy Planning and Development at USC showed that 63% of likely voters would support it.
"I don't like taxes any more than anyone else," Baca said. "But we're talking about lives, a robust economy ... we're really speaking to America's promise."
With a few days left before the Tuesday deadline, however, Baca said he may not collect the 171,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. He said he has about 150,000.
If he fails, the supervisors can still put the matter before voters if four of the five supervisors support it. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has backed the idea, but may not have the votes to do it.
To help sway the supervisors, Los Angeles city officials have begun a lobbying campaign to rally other cities to lean on county leaders.
"All of us should encourage the ... supervisors to vote yes," Councilman Tom LaBonge said.
Already, at least 34 of the county's 88 cities from Long Beach to West Hollywood have backed the idea and Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Alex Padilla said they were working hard to persuade more to sign on.
"We have the opportunity in Los Angeles to create a city that's safe enough to attract economic development and job creation, or that's safe enough for every child to get a great education," Garcetti said.
Padilla said that was the pitch he was making to other cities that had not yet endorsed the measure.
"I'm lighting up the phone lines," he said.