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Rivals on Santa Monica Tax Measure Address Different Issues

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Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 12, 2016 -- Supporters of two related Santa Monica measures calling for a half-cent sales tax say it would bring much-needed funding for public education and the City's affordable housing program.

Opponents say it would lead to increased development in an already crowded city.

These statements were included in arguments submitted to the City this week that will appear on the November ballot alongside the measures.

“Voting yes on [the measures] is a vote to maintain and protect the quality of our local schools while also ensuring that rent burdened residents, often seniors, are able to age in place and providing local workers with homes near jobs, reducing local traffic,” wrote supporters.

Opponents say increased funding for the affordable housing program would mean “more high density, multi-floor development.”

“Do you want more development in Santa Monica?” the argument asks, with the word “more” written in all capital letters for emphasis.

This argument was also used two years ago to challenge an unsuccessful local measure that would have funded the affordable housing program through an increase in the real estate tax on high-priced homes ("Defeat of Measures H and HH May Signal Shift in Affordable Housing," November 18, 2016).

The main measure, which has not yet received a letter designation, calls for the City sales tax rate to be raised from .5 percent to 1 percent.

The accompanying measure, also not yet named, recommends the tax revenue go to public education and the affordable housing program, which is not limited to funding new construction.

The recommendation measure is non-binding, although it is not likely the council would reject it when determining budgeting, at least not in the immediate future.

City officials estimate the tax would generate $16 million each year. It is officially called a transaction and use tax, although it functions almost the same as a sales tax with some technical differences.

Signing the arguments in favor of the measures were Sarah Braff, president of the local teachers union; Santa Monica Housing Commission Chair Michael Soloff; PTA President Jennifer Smith; Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman and AARP District Coordinator Barry Seid.

Among those who signed the opposition arguments, perhaps the most well-known is former Rent Control Board commissioner Robert Kronovet, who surprised political observers eight years ago with an election victory despite being a Republican landlord opposed to rent control.

Others who signed the opposition arguments and the designations listed next to their names were Roberto Rodriguez, “Santa Monica renter;” Clara Benrey, “retired school teacher;” Scott Kelso, “union member” and Donald Gray, who is a former chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association.

The opponents did not address whether the school district needs more funding, although they say the tax would lead to “overcrowding schools.” It was not specified how that would happen.

Supporters wrote that more money is needed for the school district because “Santa Monica has great schools, but State funding is unreliable and doesn’t provide adequate funds to maintain them.”

The committee Campaign for Public Education & Affordable Housing was formed last month to support the measures.

No official opposition committee has been formed. This is not unusual.

Campaigns against Santa Monica tax measures are usually not well-funded, if at all, and are done mostly by individuals through letters to the editor, word of mouth and other inexpensive means.

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