By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor
I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark Verville to use their valuable column for his dubious financial theories, they are hurting their brand.
The SMa.r.t. architects and most others who follow city government know my record on finance, land use, and good government. It was I who first proposed, fought for, and nurtured the audit subcommittee on which Mr. Verville now serves. It was I who brought forward our first-ever lobbyist ordinance. And it was I and my husband, Michael Soloff, who together with our school community and affordable housing allies, brought forward and funded the successful campaign for Measures GS and GSH that provide our only recurring source of funds for affordable housing (which is mostly paid by businesses and visitors to our City), as well as funds for our schools. I also voted to end the proposed development at 4th and Arizona and against the Miramar DA (and was the only steadfast Councilmember opponent of both proposals for the past several years), was the only Councilmember sponsor of the successful term limits citizens’ initiative in 2018, and was a catalyst for our stronger Oaks Initiative protections. And when I said in 2014 that if elected I would only serve 8 years on the City Council, I meant it. I am not running for office in 2022.
I list these accomplishments and positions to establish my bona fides, my good faith. So when I am accused by Mr. Verville of spearheading a “City movement towards increasing direct taxation of residents” rather than taxation of commercial activity, or forgetting to ask “How Much Will It Cost,” I take umbrage. When we moved to Santa Monica from Brentwood in 1992, we made a deliberate choice. We could have lived anywhere but we chose this city because it better reflected our values and principles. I believe that most Santa Monicans continue to agree that we want to share our great good fortune as a community with our neighbors who need a helping hand, and we want to maintain our community’s inclusive character. That is why I, with my husband, long have advocated for more affordable housing in a singularly unaffordable town, including through local rent subsidies such as the Preserve Our Diversity (POD) program created when my husband was Chair of the Housing Commission, rent control, deed-restricted affordable housing, and increased local, State, County and federal funding for affordable housing programs.
That is why we are proud to personally finance the citizens’ initiative “Funding for Homelessness Prevention, Affordable Housing, and Schools.” This initiative is not about buildings and development: it is about people who already live and/or work in your neighborhood, on your block, in your building. Did you know that (HUD estimates) over 6000 Santa Monica households—our neighbors who already live here in Santa Monica—are low income yet pay more than half of their limited income for rent and utilities? If you add low income Santa Monica households who pay more than 30% and up to 50% of their limited income for rent and utilities—again, our friends and neighbors—the number of rent burdened low-income households jumps to close to 10,000. That’s roughly 20% of all existing Santa Monica households.
I care about these Santa Monica residents and know that our initiative will help many of them, through ongoing rent subsidy, emergency assistance when a missed paycheck or unusual expense otherwise would mean eviction, new deed-restricted affordable units, and excellent public schools for their children (and, indeed, all our community’s children). Our initiative also will help create a place to live in our City for more of the lower-wage workers in our restaurants, retail stores, and hotels—people whose hard work is essential to generating the commercial-based sales and hotel occupancy taxes that help fund many of the benefits we enjoy here, from our pothole-free streets to our glorious beachfront to our wonderful schools. I care about these contributors to our community as well.
Mr. Verville has argued that most of the property sales in Santa Monica topping $8 million are single-family homes. I personally drove to Norwalk to check property records for 2022 sales since that is the only way to verify whether the sale is a home or is commercial property (including apartment buildings). That check revealed that in January and February of 2022 (the only months this year with available data as of my April 2022 public records act request to the City for sales data), only one of 12 sales for $8 million or more was a single-family home. But that begs a larger point. If individuals are able to sell a single-family home for $8,000,000 or more, they are very fortunate financially, and can reasonably be asked to pay an additional 5% of their sales price in transfer taxes to help those less fortunate who cannot pay the market rents demanded by our local for-profit developers (or even the rents charged in private rent-controlled units) And, as Mr. Verville points out, increasingly even single family homes are owned by investors and not residents.
I began my political journey in Santa Monica as an agitator seeking more than 16 deed-restricted affordable housing units in the proposed 400 unit for-profit development slated to replace Village Trailer Park. The final project contained 38 deed-restricted units, still inadequate but better than a paltry 16 units. As a Planning Commissioner and then a Councilmember, I have continued to demand even more affordable units from for-profit developers. But unrestricted market-rate housing development is neither a proper nor a viable affordable housing strategy, and we (together with the City of Los Angeles which will have a similar transfer tax measure on its November ballot) must show the State that there is a better way.
Our city long has dedicated itself to diversity and inclusion in its government and in its housing. Indeed, a prior successful citizens’ initiative enshrined the goal of economic diversity into the City Charter through a provision requiring the City Council to assure that at least 30% of new multi-family housing each year is deed-restricted affordable housing. The rapid changes in our society require rapid responses informed by data and deliberate decision-making. We have too little of this in our government and our planning, and too much finger-pointing and nay-saying. We are asking you, the voters of Santa Monica, to join us in our mission to help Santa Monica remain the economically diverse community it has been in the past and can remain in the future if we put our minds to it (and demand that the State provide increased matching funds as well). Please call or text me (310-963-1337) if you want to sign the petition or gather signatures from your neighbors.