Simi Valley Council creates committee to study having opening prayers at their meetings

By Debra Tash

At their June 9th meeting the Simi Valley City Council  passed a resolution creating  a Tourism Marketing District.  Overnight stays in the city’s hotels will be simi.chamberassessed 2% of the total bill to fund the District as it markets the area as a tourist destination.  The acting city attorney, Sonia Hehir, informed the council according to California statue only businesses directly assessed for these special districts can protest them.  That the public at large does not have input and that the monies raised must be used for the purpose they were assessed, not go into the general fund. However the City will receive 1% of the funds as reimbursement for Services. Yet the bulk of the administration will be done by the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.  They could receive as much as 20% of the expected $230,000 projected revenue per year for their services.

Michele Foster did a Power Point presentation on behalf of the Chamber, stating: “This is a perfect example of a private/public partnership.” Foster pointed out the District would provide a revenue stream to promote tourism.  That the increase in visitors would generate money through the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).  That there would be Job creation and an elevation of Simi’s reputation.  A representative from the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke, addressing the boon to their city since the creation of their District.  Conejo Valley has a $1 per room per night assessment and has raised as much as $500,000 a year.

The Simi District would represent 600 rooms that at full occupancy would generate $30,000 total revenue per night for the hotels.

Extended Stay America was the only hotel that did not sign the petition to create District.  Their corporate office does not support it since they cater to a clientele that stays for longer periods of time.  However, if someone stays beyond 30 days they will not be assessed the 2% fee.

Extended Stay America

Extended Stay America

Doug Crosse, a Simi Valley resident who helped found the local Tea Party, opposed the measure.  He did not see Simi becoming a tourist city and it would be a waste of money.  Council Member Keith Mashburn said,  “Bottom line I am not for this. I am for everything you’re talking about.  The struggle I have, we call it an assessment but the customer can’t say, no.”

The resolution passed 4 to 1, Council Member Mashburn voting against it.

Also heard at the meeting was the question of a having prayer at the opening of their legislative meetings.  The recent Supreme Court Decision of the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, et al. brought the issue forward in Simi Valley.  Acting city attorney, Sonia Hehir, said that it is unknown at this time, whether or not the allowance of prayer at City Council meetings will violate the “no preference” clause of the California Constitution.  From the agenda report:  “In addition to a similar Establishment Clause found in the California Constitution, Article I, section IV, California Constitution also contains a ‘no preference’ clause which states, ‘Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed.'”

Council Member Mashburn said, “Where does it begin or end?”  He and Judge were concerned they were opening up the City for all manner of worship.  Hehir confirmed that the Town of Greece did have to let a Wicca priestess give a blessing at one of their meetings.

To study the issue a subcommittee was proposed and adopted unanimously.  Mayor Bob Huber and Council Member Mashburn will serve on it along with the city attorney and members of the local faith community.

They failed to note that Santa Paula, one of the county’s ten cities, already opens their council meetings with prayer.

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Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of Citizensjournal.us, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis

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