Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

New Ballot Measures Swallow Up Airport Discussions

The City Council's consideration to put forward a ballot measure that would lessen the restrictions of council's power to control Santa Monica airport is being overshadowed by two new companion measures on real estate transfer tax and affordable housing, which appear to have a stronger connection to Santa Monican's and their daily life.

The first measure would set the real estate transfer tax at 0.009% of sales price for all real estate transfers over $1 million, while the second would be an advisory vote on whether the increased revenues should be used for affordable housing.

For a long time now, aviation interests have been a focal point, gaining over 15,000 signatures supporting their measure on the ballot in November. While the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (OAPA) has been campaigning to prevent Santa Monica officials from "over-development" on the property, their opponents have challenged this proposal, saying the OAPA's real interest is to keep the status quo at Santa Monica Airport. Many neighborhood groups and the city's largest political party have also come out against the measure, claiming that it unfairly frames high-density development as inevitable for the airport land- particularly as local anti airport activists insist there is little risk of the airport land being developed at all.

However, this week, attention was diverted away from this discussion and onto two new measures on the ballot in November.

The first measure would require approval by more than 50% of voters, since it is an adjustment to the local transfer tax. If passed, it would generate an additional $4 million to $10.2 million per year, according to City staff estimates. The second measure is an effort to replace as much as $20 million a year in Redevelopment Agency funds, which previously helped build affordable housing in Santa Monica. These agencies were dissolved by California Governor Jerry Brown in an attempt to help bridge the State's budget deficit. Now, there is a push for this decision to be reversed.

According to Andy Eagle, Director of Housing and Economic Development, "without continued support of affordable housing, economic diversity in Santa Monica may decline and the housing needs of lower-income members of the community cannot be addressed adequately." This concern is becoming increasingly felt throughout the city.

As such, both measures already have a huge following. According to the staff report accompanying the council items, the City hired research firm FM3 to conduct a survey to gauge voter attitudes toward the proposed real estate transfer tax and affordable housing in general. The survey, conducted April 2014, found that 56% of voters believe there is a "great need" for additional funding to provide affordable housing in Santa Monica.

Additionally, a majority of survey respondents expressed some level of support for the proposed increase of the real estate transfer tax from 0.003% to 0.009% of sales value. It is clear from these figures that this item has a precedent reaching that of the issues over the airport.

"Survey respondents indicated the strongest support for the measures if the funds were used only for affordable housing, including acquisition and rehabilitation of existing apartment buildings," staff wrote in its report. The strongest support was for housing "for seniors, veterans, persons living with disabilities, and people who live or work in Santa Monica".

Pursuant to previous Council direction, staff recommends adoption of an ordinance and a resolution, placing two measures on the November 2014 General Municipal Election Ballot. This is not the first time the City has put two proposals on the ballot for voter approval and input- in 2010, Santa Monica voters approved a "transactions and use" tax, as well as a measure asking if voters were in favor of allocating half of the revenues from the tax for school programs. Since adoption of the two measures, Council has allocated 50% of all revenues to school programs. Perhaps integrating dual measures does bring about more enforced change?

As for the airport, the City's initiative, if approved by voters, would still undergo a public process to decide the future of Santa Monica airport, but the City Council will still have the authority to shut it down. If signatures from 15 percent of the registered Santa Monica voters are verified, the AOPA-backed measure will appear on the ballot later this year.

Though the council has considered the language of these amendments at this week's meeting, it is expected to finalize the ballot measure language by July 22.


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