Coronado is testing a new emergency alert system. Staff photo by Willem Quigley.

The Coronado City Council on June 6 approved an annual spending plan that includes 3% pay raises for city employees, and they encouraged state lawmakers to pass a bill that would exempt state taxes for military retirees and their surviving spouses.

The council gave formal approval to a 2023-24 budget of $67 million that begins July 1, which they had reviewed last month. The budget includes two new positions and $500,000 being set aside for a future new fire truck.

Coronado City Manager Tina Friend discusses the 2023-24 budget at the City Council Meeting on May 23. Staff photo by Craig Harris.

City Manager Tina Friend also said that Coronado’s free summer shuttle program has been delayed because of a bus drivers’ strike. The program was slated to begin June 11.

Meanwhile, the council in a 5-0 vote threw its support behind Assembly Bill 46 or the Military Services Retirement and Surviving Spouse Benefit Payment Act.

That legislation passed the state Assembly last month after similar legislation failed to pass in prior years. It’s now in the state Senate.

Council: Tax exemption small price to pay

The tax exemption would cost California at least $50 million for the first year and $85 million annually thereafter, according to a presentation given to the council.

However, city council members said that’s a small price to pay to keep retirees from leaving California for states that do not tax those pensions. Council members also pointed to Coronado’s strong ties to the Navy and military in supporting the legislation.

It also was noted during the meeting that 37 other states fully exempt military retirement pay and survivor benefits, while 12 states and the District of Columbia provide partial exemptions.

Only California taxes those benefits, according to several military retirees who addressed the council.

Retirees: Taxation forces many to flee

Some of those retirees said the pension taxation is forcing many retirees to flee California, which causes a drain on the economy.

“Why should we be punishing these service members?”

-Councilman John Duncan on his support for Assembly Bill 46.

“Why should we be punishing these service members?” said Councilman John Duncan shortly before voting to support the legislation.

Councilwoman Carrie Downey, who served in the Navy, noted “I can’t imagine why anyone would oppose it.”

Water quality update

Friend, the city manager, during her report to the council also said the large number of times that Coronado’s beaches have been closed this year was because of pollution coming from Tijuana.

The Coronado News earlier this year published a five-part investigative series that examined nearly a century-long legacy of broken promises by U.S. and Mexican officials that have resulted in tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The environmental crisis not only pollutes the water, but it affects sea life and causes health problems to residents, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALS.  

The investigation found tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage flow from Tijuana into San Diego County’s southern beaches, including Coronado, on a daily basis because the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment plant cannot handle all the raw sewage from Tijuana when there are heavy storms.

Friend said sizeable rainfall during the first three months of this year compared to 2022 was a main cause of the sewage flow and beach closures.

“A lot more water was pushing the pollution down into the ocean,” she said.

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Craig Harris has 31 years of daily journalism experience and is editor and associate publisher. He most recently worked at USA TODAY as a national investigative business reporter, and he’s a two-time Polk Award winner. You can catch him at the Coronado dog beach with his beagle, Daisy, who has her own Twitter account. He can be reached by email or at 602-509-3613.