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A group of friends play a game of basketball at the Joslyn Park courts on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Advocates for better public parks in Santa Monica are pressing the City Council to increase a tax on new residential units that pays for recreational facilities.

City Hall charges developers a $200 tax per residential unit constructed — an amount that’s been constant since the tax was created in 1973.

In a letter to the council this month, Susan Cloke, who chairs City Hall’s Parks & Recreation Commission, said the tax hasn’t kept up with the times and needs to be revisited.

The council should direct staff to look into raising the tax to “an appropriate level,” she said, though she declined to suggest how much the tax should be.

She said in Los Angeles developers can be required to contribute more than $1,000 per unit for parks.

City Hall’s budget deficit and the public’s increasing use of parks, she said, should put added pressure on the council to hike the tax.

Karen Ginsberg, City Hall’s assistant director of Community and Cultural Services, said the Planning Commission has discussed the idea and several City Hall departments are studying the issue. But there’s no proposal to increase the tax scheduled to come before the council.

Funds from the tax are typically used for park improvement projects, Ginsberg said. At Joslyn Park, $129,000 from the fund recently paid for new trees, lighting, benches, a drinking fountain and an area for dogs, she said.

“Based on this [$200] fee amount it takes quite some time to accumulate any great amount of funds,” she added, noting that the current fund balance is about $14,000.

She said it’s difficult to compare Santa Monica’s tax to the amounts other jurisdictions charge because cities have different ways of assessing fees for parks.

There are 26 parks in Santa Monica, ranging in size and amenities offered.

Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer said with the tax remaining at the 1973 level, “one good size condo development buys a park bench.”

City Councilman Kevin McKeown said he’s receptive to the idea of raising the tax, but added a detailed study will have to be conducted before the council can consider an increase.

“Santa Monica is under parked. We do not have the open space, other than the beach, to support the density of housing that we have in the city,” he said.

Developers are likely to push back against any proposal to raise fees for residential developers.

Rosario Perry, an attorney who represents landlords and developers, said increasing taxes on housing providers would go against City Hall’s goal of encouraging more residential construction. City officials have said an imbalance of too many commercial buildings and too few residences in Santa Monica has exacerbated the traffic problem.

“There are people in the city that feel that they can basically pay for the city’s expenses on the back of new construction,” Perry said. “The problem is that it just makes new construction more and more unaffordable.”

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