Tony Vazquez

Councilmember Tony Vazquez will step down from the Santa Monica City Council Jan. 7, 2019 to take a seat on the State Board of Equalization.

Vazquez served as Mayor from 2015 to 2016 and was elected to the Council three times. Local voters elected Vazquez Nov. 6 to represent Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties on the State Board of Equalization (SBOE), which is responsible for administering various taxes and overseeing county property tax assessments. SBOE is the only elected tax board in the country.

Vazquez won the seat with 67.9 percent of the vote, defeating Republican G. Rick Marshall to become SBOE’s first Latino member. His endorsements included California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and local congressman Ted Lieu.

State law prohibits a person from holding two public offices simultaneously if the duties of those offices potentially overlap. City Attorney Lane Dilg requested an advisory opinion from the California Attorney General as to whether these offices are incompatible, and the Attorney General has opined that they are.

SBOE adjusts county property taxes to equalize the burden of property taxation throughout the state, and fulfilling those duties as a Board member while simultaneously serving as a council member for the City of Santa Monica would create a conflict of loyalties, because raising or lowering the property tax level in Los Angeles County would affect the City’s revenue, according to a letter the Attorney General sent to Dilg.

“The objectivity of a Board member, whose duty it is to equalize county property tax levels, would be tested by the fact that an increase of the tax level for the City’s host county would yield more funding for services provided by the City, its schools, and special districts, whereas a decrease would yield less funding for those services,” the letter said.

In addition, the Attorney General said SBOE is charged with overseeing property taxes assessed on certain city-owned property outside the city’s boundaries, which would place Vazquez’s loyalty to the Board at odds with his loyalty to the City, because any tax allowed or increased on City-owned property would directly affect the City’s coffers. The higher the assessment, the more money the City would pay in property tax; the lower the assessment, the less money the City would pay.

City Council will be able to appoint someone to fill Vazquez’s seat until Feb. 6, 2019. However, if they do not make an appointment in that time period, the City will call a special election.

The Council will open the application process to make an appointment at their Jan. 8 meeting, said City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren. The application will be available online as early as the day after the meeting, and the Council has historically interviewed applicants individually, she added.

If the Council does not make an appointment, the City will consolidate with Los Angeles County for its Nov. 5, 2019 election.

madeleine@smdp.com

This article was updated Nov. 28 at 5:51 p.m.

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