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Majority of Santa Monica City Council Wants 2016 Ballot Measure for Affordable Housing

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 6, 2015 – Faced with a steep drop in affordable housing, a majority of the Santa Monica City Council is willing to put a proposal on the 2016 ballot aimed at securing funding for affordable housing.

“The 2016 ballot will almost certainly include a local proposal to fund affordable housing,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said the funding is much needed.

“Everything is headed toward us becoming Beverly Hills by the sea,” Himmelrich said of the need to reverse the recent dramatic decline in affordable housing.

It would mark the second time in as many years a measure seeking money for affordable housing appeared on the ballot.

Measure H on the ballot last November called for an increase of the tax on real estate transactions of at least $1 million from $3 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9 per $1,000. It lost soundly, garnering just 42.50 percent of the “yes” vote compared to 57.50 percent of the “no” vote.

A companion proposition, Measure HH, only reiterated that the money raised would be earmarked for affordable housing. Still, it only squeaked by, with 50.53 percent of the vote.

Proponents of the measure believe it was primarily defeated by poor voter turnout – a problem, they said, they would be less likely to encounter in the 2016 presidential election year.

Santa Monica, like local governments across California, is scrambling to find money to replace the funding it lost when the state abolished redevelopment agencies in 2011. The loss for Santa Monica was about $15 million annually.

Meanwhile, affordable housing construction fell  from totaling 56 percent of all multi-family units built in the city during the 2013-14 fiscal year to just 19 percent of units currently being built, according to a recent report by city housing officials.

Although many council members want to see a 2016 affordable housing ballot measure, they differ in how such a measure would actually go about raising money.

For instance, Councilmember Tony Vazquez said he supported such a proposition but suggested it be similar to Proposition Y and Proposition YY, both approved in November of 2010.

With Proposition Y, voters approved an additional half-cent sales tax to the then 9.75 percent sales tax, generating about $12 in revenue annually. Proposition YY earmarked half the revenue for funding education. 

For that reason, he said the council should consider a proposition that also includes funding for the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and Santa Monica College (SMC) as well.

“We have to put our heads together and see what happens,” he said.

Councilmember Terry O’Day also supported a ballot measure, although he noted that recently introduced legislation in Sacramento is also attempting to handle the affordable housing problem, albeit on a statewide level.

The legislation by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, would expand affordable housing, in part, by charging a $75 fee to record real estate documents.

It would also increase the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit by $300 million.

O’Day said the city would need to be careful that the ballot measure and the state legislation, if ultimately passed, “don’t cancel each other out.”

Himmelrich said the affordable housing ballot measure should increase the dollar fee per $1,000 based on the amount of the transaction.

Councilmember Pam O’Connor also supported an affordable housing measure.

“I don’t rule anything out,” O’Connor said. “I know there are people in Santa Monica who don’t want anyone else here. But we need to make room. I don’t want to keep new people and young people from living in Santa Monica. We need more housing.”

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