By Khalida Sarwari
The ballot language was prepared and the polls supported it.
But as it considered following in Mountain View’s footsteps by placing a measure on this November’s ballot proposing to tax Apple and other businesses based on the number of their employees, the Cupertino City Council backed off Tuesday night much like Seattle recently did amid strong opposition to a similar tax from its biggest employers, Amazon and Starbucks.
A day after the council’s unanimous vote to table a tax plan that would have asked Apple to fork out $9 million to help curb traffic congestion, a couple of council members elaborated in interviews with this news organization on their reasons, suggesting they didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of a “good partner.”
Barry Chang, the only council member who has been staunchly pushing for a 2018 ballot measure asking voters to consider restructuring the city’s almost two-decade-old business tax model, said that by Tuesday night he was convinced of the narrative that Apple and the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce had put out — at least the part about why the proposal should be postponed to 2020.
Apple and other members of the business community argued that the city’s process was rushed and it didn’t present a plan for how the tax money would be spent.
Chang said he and his colleagues each met individually with Apple representatives, including the company’s government liaison, Mike Foulkes, prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. He suggested it was the company’s persuasive efforts — such as a letter Apple vice president Kristina Raspe sent to the city on Monday — that swayed his vote. But he didn’t feel pressured from Apple, he said.
“From my point of view, when I see Apple’s sincerity, I think that’s a very strong message,” Chang said. “They say give us some more time so our traffic team can work with your city staff and find a solution. I believe them. They cannot just say something and not do it.”
Chang said his vote also reflects his belief that he couldn’t get majority approval on a motion to place the proposed “head tax” on this year’s ballot. Once he realized it wasn’t going to pass, he figured: “Why push it and make everybody feel uncomfortable with it?”
Mayor Darcy Paul said he also met several times with Apple and like, Chang, found the company’s representatives sincere in their professed commitment to establish a partnership with the city to tackle traffic congestion. But, he said, as promising as the conversations have been, what materializes from Apple’s good faith negotiations a year or two from now will be the real test.
“We don’t really know because we don’t have a two-year crystal ball,” he said.
Both Chang and Paul say the city ultimately is vying for a “win-win” with its business sector in addressing the region’s transportation problems, whether that’s achieved via a tax-based scheme or alternative means.
“If we had a potential of (the tax plan) being used as a carrot and stick motivation, then that’s something,” said Paul.