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Anti-Tax Activist Wants Argument Removed from Ballot

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 15, 2014 -- Long-time Santa Monica tax opponent Mathew Millen filed a lawsuit earlier this week in an attempt to get an argument in favor of the real estate tax hike measure removed from the November ballot. He says the argument was submitted illegally.

A press release issued by Millen’s newly formed group No Taxes to Fund Development says an argument submitted by the measure’s proponents features more signatures than allowed by City law, including one from City Councilmember Ted Winterer.

City Clerk Sarah Gorman removed the signatures in an attempt to make the argument compliant with the law, Millen said. She was not allowed to do this, he said, and therefore the argument cannot be published on the ballot.

“City Hall insiders and local politicians … know the rules yet ignored them by illegally changing signatories,” said Millen in the press release.

Proponents and opponents are allowed to submit arguments signed by up to five people for measures that will appear on the ballot. After the two sides have seen each other’s arguments, they are allowed to submit rebuttals that will also appear on the ballot.

Only those who signed the original argument can sign a rebuttal, according to the Santa Monica Municipal Code. Winterer and League of Women Voters President Ann Williams had not signed the original argument, but attached their names to the rebuttal.

Neither Winterer nor Williams’ names will appear on the rebuttal argument when it is published because Gorman removed them.

“That’s not how it works,” said measure opponent Peter Tigler in an interview with The Lookout.

Tigler said once an argument has been submitted, only a judge can make adjustments. He said that includes adjustments to the signatures.

Gorman and the City Attorney’s Office did not respond to The Lookout's requests for comment. Winterer confirmed that he had signed the rebuttal and Gorman removed his signature. He added, “Beyond that, it would be imprudent to comment on pending litigation.”

The measure proposes an increase to the tax on real estate transactions of at least $1 million from $3 per $1,000 to $9 per $1,000. A companion measure says the money earned through the tax hike should support Santa Monica’s affordable housing program, although it is only an advisory proposal.

Opponents say the measure is part of a scheme to bring more high-density development to Santa Monica without residents’ input. Older buildings would be torn down and people would be at risk of eviction, the opponents say.

Approximately half the press release announcing the lawsuit is dedicated to the development argument and an allegation the tax hike “will lead to  to higher housing costs, higher rents and higher prices for goods and services.”

Proponents say their rivals are not being factual, and stated this in the rebuttal argument that could be at risk of elimination from the ballot.

“[The] measure … will not increase development,” states the rebuttal officially signed by Councilmember Tony Vazquez, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) co-Chair Patricia Hoffman and SMRR co-founder/former Mayor Denny Zane.

They continued, “[The] measure … does not relax zoning restrictions in any way and does not allow any increases in building height or density. The money raised … will go to the City and residents will have a voice in how this money is spent.”

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