The Santa Monica City Council members to be elected this Tuesday, Nov. 4 will be responsible for guiding and shaping the city. Their decisions will affect each of us in practical ways – such as our daily travel in the city; the number of parks we have and how they are used; how we spend the public dollar and the social benefits that can bring; and the image and character of new development in the City.
This column is the fifth, and last, in a series of columns where City Council candidates are asked to respond to issues of controversy and conflict in Santa Monica.
There are 14 candidates for three seats. The purpose of these columns is to let you, the reader, get a better understanding of each candidate and to help you as you decide which candidates are worthy of your vote.
To see the candidates answers to previous visit:
Question 1: Traffic
Question 2: Senior services
Question 3: Airport
Question 4: Ethics
Here is this week’s question:
Santa Monica is a City that prides itself on its support for affordable housing and has made significant achievements in building affordable housing.
However, as housing costs rise, it has become increasingly clear that many people who work here – among them teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers – cannot afford to live here.
The City Council has proposed a two-part approach to addressing this issue. One part is a ballot measure raising the tax on all sold commercial and residential properties. This tax, called a Transfer Tax will be voted on in Measure H.
The second part is a separate ballot measure dedicating the raised transfer tax to affordable housing. Measure HH.
While it is clear that Santa Monicans support affordable housing, it is not clear that they think this is the right solution. Critics have raised questions about the level of increase in the tax, the burden on homeowners and the fairness of the tax. Defenders have talked about the necessity and fairness of building affordable housing and on the positive contributions of affordable housing to the City.
Do you support the Transfer Tax? Do you think there is a better way? Do you think the increase in the tax (threefold) is the right or the wrong amount? Why? Are you concerned that the transfer tax might be raised and then not be used to create affordable housing?
In ballot order, here are the responses of the City Council candidates.
I support local funding of affordable housing production to enable Santa Monica to give preference to Santa Monica residents. It was my understanding when Measure H was first discussed that it would be a graduated transfer tax that imposed a .3 percent tax on the first $1 million of sale proceeds and .9 percent on any amounts exceeding $1 million, a structure I would prefer but that the L.A. County Assessor rejected. I still support Measures H and HH, though we need to elect the right City Council to insure that the funds are used properly.
I fully support Measure H and Measure HH. I do think most community groups and a majority of Santa Monicans will be supportive, especially now that redevelopment funding has been pulled. It’s important to remember that the transfer tax is at point of sale only for homes over $1 million. I’m sure if Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz of the Tea Party were Santa Monica residents they would be against it. But I join with the S.M. Democratic Club and so many other concerned groups and community leaders in urging a yes on Measure H and Measure HH.
Extensive research was undertaken to identify potential funding sources to provide new affordable housing for the most vulnerable among us as well as our workforce. Among the few viable possibilities was the proposed transfer tax. It is a one-time tax per transaction. Every year the City budget resources are directed to the priorities of the community. The advisory vote will provide guidance to use of the tax, if passed. In future decades the community will determine its own priorities. In this decade the need for affordable housing is a priority.
Affordable housing yes. But no on H and HH. Bobby Shriver was against raising the sales tax. He’d seen the books and said, “Better budgeting is the answer”. Every election pinching the residents of Santa Monica with another bond or fee with no sunset clause, senior exemption, and no promise these funds will be spent on what they say they’re for? This hurts our longtime resident seniors at a time when we need to be protecting their wellbeing. Not exploiting them for being able to hang on to their remaining asset to guarantee they have something to protect their retirement funds.
In 1990 Santa Monica voters voted to require that 30 percent of housing here be affordable. For a long time we were able to use redevelopment money to create most of this housing, mostly by renovating existing buildings, but now that money is gone. H and HH are not perfect (and no tax is perfectly fair), but by linking the tax burden to the sale of real property, both commercial and residential, the measures at least link the tax to assets that have appreciated in value in part because of the shortage of housing in the region.
With the second highest property and document transfer tax in L.A. County the City Council proposes to raise our high fee (Most cities are .55/$1000 of sales price) to $9 per $1000 of the sales price. This will be deposited into our general fund with an advisory for low cost housing. This tax will add more development in the midst of a serious drought and has no expiration date. To triple a tax is wrong. Let’s stop the race to be number one in taxation. We can find another way to add affordable housing. I urge a no vote on both Measure H and HH.
I support Measures H and HH and, as a member of the City Council, I would ensure that the revenue from the tax goes directly to the overwhelming demand for affordable housing in Santa Monica. That being said, we need to take steps to protect the shrinking middle class in Santa Monica by creating a tiered affordable housing program that provides support to middle income brackets by pegging rental prices to income levels in addition to continuing to bolster the funding of low income housing.
Whitney Scott Bain
Measures H and HH run counter to what Proposition 13 stands for. They’re both weak variations of the Toronto Land Tax deal that demands $24,000 per million dollars established on a home that is sold. The fact that there is no grandfather clause on property transferred between parents and children as well as the fact that it is purposely written to exclude a new owner of a purchased building from a previous owner who is to say that the new owner would pass the transfer tax to their tenants shows how poorly written these two bills are and in the lack of their specifics.
There is much more than raising taxes to the issue of affordable housing. The main issue is affordability. That is solved by changing building codes to allow much smaller spaces to be built, safely. It is also solved by taking the cost of land out of the equation, as in community land trusts. The third is by promoting effective and fair public/private partnerships to specifically address the issue. When this issue is approached as a win/win opportunity rather than a win/lose battle, there will be surprising and gratifying progress on this vital issue. Yes, I support both H and HH, but I am worried that the money will not be spent for the purpose intended. We need more than H and HH, and it needs to be more intelligently applied.
Measure H proposes a one-time fee, assessed only when commercial or other property is sold, and often paid by the buyer. Homeowners who stay put pay nothing. Unlike an annual parcel tax, there is absolutely no cost if you retain your home. Passage will mean less development, because without locally controlled revenue we’re forced to rely on market-rate developers to provide small amounts of affordable housing in exchange for bigger projects. Other cities already have higher fees than H proposes. H and HH follow the successful model of Y and YY four years ago, which reliably funded our public schools.
The City Charter mandates that 30 percent of all housing built be affordable. Getting capital to acquire or build housing will be a challenge for many years going forward. H and HH may be one method. Money from State Cap and Trade legislation may produce funds for some housing near the train stations. Ultimately, other sources will be needed. This may include pension funds investing in City backed housing infrastructure funds. At every level the housing market here is expensive; forcing out long-term residents and acting as a barrier to newcomers at every income level. A hollowed out City is the result with no middle class or ordinary citizens. We do need to tackle this inequality for social diversity and economic strength.
Santa Monicans have been generous taxpayers. Asking for more is another scam perpetrated on the voters, like so-called affordable housing. The population of this eight square mile city is already beyond critical mass. We’re rapidly losing our low-income rent control housing (for living wage workers) because developers are buying those buildings. SMPD officers already have a three-day week, allowing them to pick up another three days in overtime! Now they want help purchasing a house? What should be done is hire a new city manager who will streamline the budget, fire overpaid bureaucrats, and cut the waste!
Santa Monica’s ‘jobs heavy’ jobs/housing imbalance has created significant commute traffic and congestion. The 1995 state Costa-Hawkins Act also decimated our previously affordable housing stock, causing over 20,000 rent-controlled units to rise to market rates. I support producing new and preserving existing affordable housing, so people can live closer to work and we can enjoy a diverse community of people from all income levels. Unfortunately Governor Brown took away redevelopment funds we used for new housing. New locally generated funds from Measure H will allow us to dedicate new affordable housing specifically to Santa Monicans.
Without redevelopment funds, we need to find new ways to create affordable housing and keep rents affordable. The proposed affordable housing measure would enable preservation of affordable-housing stock through rehabilitation as well as production of new housing by non-profit providers. Measures H and HH will give us local control of what is produced and enable the City to provide preference for Santa Monicans so people can live near their jobs. In addition, H/HH will enable the City to control how much affordable housing is built without relying on developer-driven projects that erode the charm and unique character of Santa Monica.
What Say You? VOTE!