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Mayor's Tax Measure Appears Headed for Ballot

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By Jorge Casuso

June 16, 2022 -- Mayor Sue Himmelrich's proposed measure to dramatically boost Santa Monica's high-end real estate transfer tax appears to be headed for the ballot after a preliminary review of signatures by the City Clerk.

Of the more than 11,000 petition signatures reviewed by the Clerk's office Wednesday and Thursday, 10,277 will be sent to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office, Himmelrich said.

That's far more than the 6,929 signatures needed -- 10 percent of Santa Monica's registered voters -- to make the November 8 ballot.

"We're fine," Himmelrich told The Lookout Thursday morning. "Based on the first couple of boxes, we're going to make it by a wide margin."

For the rest of the day, City Clerk Denise Anderson Warren and a half dozen members of her staff conducted a "prima facie" review of the petition signatures, Himmelrich said.

They crossed out the names of those with addresses outside of Santa Monica or those that were missing signatures, the Mayor said.

The Clerk's office is expected to submit the signed petitions to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office on Friday.

The Registrar will then "conduct a random sampling of the submitted signatures within 30 working days" to make sure the signatures are valid, according to Ballotpedia.

If the estimate "is more than 110 percent of the requirement, the initiative qualifies for the ballot," according to the popular election website.

If the estimate "is between 95 and 110 percent of the requirement, Counties must perform a full check of signatures, looking at each individual signature submitted."

Himmelrich said she is confident her proposed “Funding for Homelessness Prevention, Affordable Housing, and Schools” ballot measure will easily qualify.

The City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to direct staff to conduct an analysis of the measure, which would charge a real estate transfer tax of $53 per $1,000 on properties valued at $8 million or more.

After reviewing the report, the Council must determine whether to approve Himmelrich's tax measure, which is not likely, or place it on the November ballot, which the Council must do if the measure qualifies.

The Council must take those actions no later than August 17, according to the County's election website.

Himmelrich's measure may not be the only transfer tax hike on the November ballot ("Brock Proposes Alternative to Mayor's 'Outrageous' Transfer Tax," May 26, 2022).

On May 24, Counciilmember Phil Brock proposed a rival measure that is far more modest than the mayor's -- raising some $15 million a year instead of the $50 million estimated under Himmellrich's proposal.

Brock's measure would charge a real estate transfer tax of $15 per $1,000 on commercial properties that sell for more than $8 million, with the tax applying only to the amount above that threshold.

Unlike the Mayor's, the measure would be a general tax, addressing a menu of budget line items that can change over time as funding needs arise.

At the May meeting, the Council voted 6 to 0, with Himmelrich absent, to ask staff to conduct an analysis. The Council would then have to vote to place the measure on the ballot.

Both measures would require a simple majority of Santa Monica voters to pass. If both earn more than 50 percent of the vote, the one with the most votes would prevail.

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