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Local Measures Crowd November Ballot

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By Jorge Casuso

July 27, 2022 -- Santa Monica voters will face an alphabet soup of measures on the November ballot -- from rival transfer taxes to a cannabis tax and Charter Amendment to change qualifications to the Personnel Board.

Those four measures were placed by the City Council Tuesday night on a ballot that already includes a college bond measure and a hotel bed tax.

The Council is also scheduled to hold a special meeting August 5 to consider two additional ballot measures that failed to win majority support.

One would amend the City Charter to reduce the annual general rent adjustment, the other would give the Rent Board authority to freeze the adjustment during a declared emergency.

Among the measures the Council voted Tuesday to place on the November 8 ballot are competing real estate transfer tax initiatives -- one sponsored by Mayor Sue Himmelrich, the other by Councilmember Phil Brock.

Himmelrich's measure, which qualified for the ballot after garnering the necessary voter signatures, would raise the real estate transfer tax by $53 for every $1,000 on property sales of more than $8 million.

The measure would raise an average of about $50 million a year for homelessness prevention, affordable housing and schools. It does not account for general price inflation and does not have a sunset clause.

After being amended by the Council Tuesday, Brock's measure would raise the transfer tax to $25 for every $1,000, up from $20, and would expire in 10 years, with a five year renewal clause added.

Brock's measure -- which excludes single family properties and properties owned by non-profits -- would raise between about $12 and $25 million a year to help fund a menu of initiatives and programs chosen by the Council, some of which were cut back during the coronavirus shutdown.

Both measures require a simple majority of the vote. If both receive more than 50 percent, the one with the most votes would be adopted.

Voters will also be asked to weigh in on a measure to establish a business license tax for cannabis-related activities of up to 10 percent of gross receipts for the sale, distribution, delivery and consumption of cannabis.

The measure would generate an estimated $3.5 million a year until repealed.

The Council on Tuesday also placed a measure on the ballot that would amend the City Charter’s eligibility requirements for the Personnel Board.

The change would allow non-Santa Monica residents who live in Los Angeles County to serve on the board if they are either employed full time in the City or own property there, or have been issued a business license by the City.

It also would reduce from five to four years the length of the terms on the five-member Board, which hears employee appeals of certain disciplinary actions.

After a lengthy, and often heated debate, the Council postponed placing two proposed measures on the ballot -- one to amend the City Charter to reduce the annual general rent adjustment.

The move comes after the Rent Board last month approved the biggest annual rent adjustment in more than 40 years. The 6 percent rent hike, which is based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for the LA region, was capped under a 1990 charter amendment.

The Council also postponed to August 5 a decision on a ballot to amend the the Charter to authorize the Rent Control Board to "freeze or modify otherwise-allowed annual general adjustments to rent ceilings during a declared state of emergency."

Tuesday's votes come one month after the Council voted unanimously to place a measure on the ballot that would raise Santa Monica's hotel bed tax to help tackle the city's homeless problem.

The measure -- which requires a simple majority of the vote -- would raise the transient occupancy tax from 14 percent to 15 percent for hotels and to 17 percent for home-shares.

The increase, which is the first since 2004, is expected to generate an estimated $4.1 million a year "to address community needs in the context of a slow and uncertain recovery" from the coronavirus shutdown.

In addition to the City measures, the the Santa Monica College (SMC) Board of Trustees last month placed a $375 million bond measure on the November ballot that, among other things, would finance new high-tech hybrid classrooms and help build housing for homeless and low-income students.

The measure, unanimously approved by the board, also would provide funding to update the school's out-dated career training facilities, build a new substation for its police force and upgrade the Veterans Success Center.

If approved by voters on November 8, homeowners in the district would pay an additional 2.5 cents per $100 of their property's assessed value, according to the proposed measure.

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