Santa Monica Lookout
|Rivals Argue Whether Financial Urgency Exists Justifying Santa Monica Rent Control Measure||
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By Jonathan Friedman
August 13, 2014 -- Proponents of a Santa Monica ballot measure calling for hiking the landlord registration fee say its approval will bring much-needed money to the Rent Control Board. Opponents argue the proposal is for a “huge tax increase to compensate overpaid government bureaucrats.”
These statements were included in the arguments that will appear on the November ballot and were recently released to the public.
If approved, the measure would allow the annual registration fee to go up from $174.96 per unit to a maximum of $288. Tenants couldn’t be forced to cover more than 50 percent of the fee. The current rule caps a tenants’ payment at $156 per year.
Payments of the fee cover 99 percent of the board’s annual $4.6 million budget. Stephen Lewis, the board’s general counsel, said in June that the fee must rise to cover increased costs that will lead to an estimated $500,000 shortfall within two years.
“Santa Monica landlords can afford to pay their fair share … their profits have increased dramatically [since 1999],” proponents wrote. “As a result, tenant harassment has spiked as landlords seek to remove long-term tenants and seniors. Protecting tenants' rights is more important than ever.”
They also wrote that the fee would not immediately go up to $288, but would gradually go up each year until eventually reaching that mark. Lewis also made this argument at a board meeting in June. Bill Dawson of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles told him he was skeptical.
“It’s very difficult to be fiscally responsible and keep it at the limit that you are if you know you can charge this [larger amount],” Dawson said.
The concept of the measure being a large cash grab was elaborated in the opponents’ argument. They noted that 85 percent of the board’s budget covers the salaries of the approximately 26 employees in what they called “a bloated bureaucracy seeking to justify its very existence.”
“No matter what well-crafted arguments they make, just remember one thing: The only ones who will benefit from the passage of this measure are the Rent Board employees,” opponents wrote.
Signing the opposition's argument were three people listed as homeowners and two designated as tenants. At least one is a Realtor.
Among those signing the proponents’ argument were City Councilmember Ted Winterer and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.
Rent control measures do not struggle in this city where rent control is one of the major themes of its modern history. Measures involving the topic in 2012 and 2010 both passed with more than 60 percent support.
Rebuttals to the arguments are due to the City on Friday.
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