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GSH/GS is a dual measure that is asking residents to raise taxes to pay for affordable housing and provide additional funding to local schools.

GSH proposes a half-percent increase in the transactions and use tax, functionally identical to a sales tax, that would raise about $16 million per year. That money would go to the City’s general fund. GS is an accompanying advisory measure that earmarks half the money for affordable housing and half for schools. Both goals are laudable, with money for affordable housing being the more pressing and worthy cause, but the measures are not a slam dunk.

There’s an absolutely reasonable way to support GS and GSH. If you support affordable housing, think local schools need more money, trust future generations of City Councilmembers to keep the promises made by the measure and believe all future school board members will use the money as intended, then vote yes on GS/GSH without hesitation.

However, if you want to vote “No” you can do so on several grounds.

The first problem relates to the use of advisory measures when raising taxes. When a municipality wants to raise taxes, it has two choices. The first is to ask for a tax increase that goes into the general fund with no required use for the money. Approval of an unspecified increase requires a simple majority (50 percent plus 1) to pass. The second choice mandates the use for the money as part of the ballot measure. A tax increase with a specific use requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

GSH is the former. The accompanying GS is an advisory measure that says if the tax is approved, voters want half to support schools and half to support housing.

On a fundamental level, we believe advisory measures are a deceptive way to bypass the challenge of securing a two-thirds vote. If you vote yes on GS/GSH, you are not supporting a tax for schools and housing, but an unrestricted increase in the general fund, while expressing a preference on how it would be spent.

There are zero requirements for the Council to honor that preference.

Supporters will say it’s politically unfeasible for a Council to blatantly ignore the will of voters. It’s not. It’s unlikely, and we didn’t find an example of it happening, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. There’s every chance a future Council composed of individuals who had nothing to do with passing GS/GSH would feel no obligation to adhere to the advisory measure.

The advisory problem relates to our second concern: GS/GSH further entangles the web between the District and the City. Under GS/GSH, we’re now trusting City Council to provide a dedicated source of funding for SMMUSD and then trusting a second elected body with no connection to the advisory measure to also honor its intent. Council has absolutely no regulatory authority over the school district. It’s a completely separate entity with its own elections, own administration and own rules. Schools and their local municipality should work together, but they also need to function independently for reasons of accountability and just good policy. We think SMMUSD is overly dependent on the City. There are policies and programs undertaken at the City level that should have come out of the District.

Going back to the issue of trust, even if all future Councils abide by the advisory measure and give the money to the schools, the District could do whatever it wants with that money, regardless of the listed needs.

Had officials presented two measures, one for schools and the other for housing, each for a quarter percent with the two-thirds requirement to mandate how the money is spent, we would enthusiastically advocate for both. However, by forcing one upon the other, it creates an air of distrust and questionable motivations.

The folks who wrote GS/GSH know and understand these concerns, so there’s the additional question as to how this Frankenstein measure came about.

You can trace the origins of the measures to what is a true affordable housing crisis. For much of Santa Monica’s recent history, residents have had a commitment to helping those less fortunate. That is reflected in the establishment of rent control and ongoing belief in building deed-restricted affordable housing. Residents chose to mandate that 30 percent of all new housing be classified as “affordable” and City Hall spend money from its redevelopment fund to support new units.

When voters subsequently chose to eliminate redevelopment money, Santa Monica was left without the financial resources to fund housing projects and continually looking to fill that void.

Without a dedicated revenue stream, City Hall has been forced to rely on squeezing affordable housing out of private developments. That process hasn’t worked well, and Santa Monica continues to shed economic diversity at an alarming pace.

In 2014, the City tried to pass a tax on the sale of homes, which failed, but an accompanying advisory measure that promised (but not required) the revenues be spent on affordable housing passed.

Efforts are afoot to try and preserve some of the city’s low-income population, but those efforts are going to be significantly undermined without new funding. GS/GSH came about to meet that need.

So the need for housing is crystal clear, but why does half the money go to schools?  School funding is complicated and precise calculations are constantly changing, but the district has recently begun to project multi-million deficits. Discussions occurred between district and city staff, with the end result being a school measure that piggybacks on the city’s attempt to fund affordable housing.

We can see the logic behind the idea. Making a single ask to voters is tactically sound and there’s a history of joint measures succeeding in Santa Monica, but forcing voters to link housing and schools isn’t a good idea. City Hall should have created a standalone sales tax measure that mandated the money go towards affordable housing. Voters have the right to a straight yes or no vote on their needs, and if two-thirds of the people passed the proposal, it would be a clear sign of their support. If the school district wants money for maintenance, great. They should have mounted their own effort for the same reasons. Let voters who support schools stand up and be counted without forcing them to back an unrelated set of policies.

If voters were presented with two independent measures, each mandating the uses for the proposed increase, we would wholeheartedly support both. As it stands, City Hall has created a measure that will create ill will among some voters. That’s a problem. Perhaps it’s not enough of a problem to vote against the measure, but for some voters it will be.

Voting for GS/GSH comes down to a matter of personal convictions.

To vote yes, you should support both schools and housing, or your support for one outweighs your problems with the other. You should have faith in the current and all future Councils to adhere to an advisory promise to share the money with the schools. You should also trust all future school board members to use the money as intended. If all of the above is true, then GS/GSH is something you should support.

If not, then vote No and insist that officials provide more clarity in future elections.