Mayor Sue Himmelrich says “save an act of God,” her property transfer tax measure is heading to the November ballot based on the number of petition signatures collected. 

Himmelrich made this declaration during a June 14 City Council meeting when Councilmembers voted to have staff prepare a report on her ballot measure. 

On June 16, City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren sent a letter to Himmelrich and her fellow initiative proposers informing them that based on a prima facie count, the petition has approximately 10,227 Santa Monica registered voter signatures. This surpasses the approximate 7,000 signature benchmark required to place a local measure on the November ballot, making the measure’s qualification appear a fait accompli.

The measure, which is entitled “Funding for Homelessness Prevention, Affordable Housing, and School Ballot Measure,” seeks to establish a third tier of local property transfer tax, which would charge a 5 percent rate for properties worth 8 million or more in value. Santa Monica already has two tiers of real estate transfer tax charging 0.3 percent on transfers under $5 million in value and 0.6 percent on transfers over $5 million in value.

Himmelrich’s measure is being placed on the ballot via a citizen initiative, which means that Council does not have the power to alter the measure text or to use the funding the measure would raise at its own discretion. The measure is being co-proposed by Himmelrich’s husband Michael Soloff and President of the Santa Monica Democratic Club Jon Katz. 

Measure proposers estimate that it would raise $50 million annually and require that the first $10 million raised go to local schools and the remaining revenue go into a fund for affordable housing construction and rental subsidies to protect residents from falling into homelessness.

On June 16, the Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott announced that a similar citizen ballot initiative qualified for the City of Los Angeles’ November ballot.

The Los Angeles ballot measure is titled “Funding For Affordable Housing And Tenant Assistance Programs Through A Tax On Real Property Transfers Over $5 Million Initiative Ordinance.” 

This measure would charge a 4 percent tax on property transfers exceeding $5 million and a 5.5 percent tax on properties exceeding $10 million. Similar to Himmelrich’s proposed measure, the Los Angeles measure would provide funding for affordable housing and resources for tenants at risk of homelessness. 

Councilmember Phil Brock believes that Himmelrich’s proposed 5 percent tax rate is too high and that her measure’s revenue allocations do not align with resident priorities. As a result he is seeking to place an alternative property transfer tax measure on the ballot via a Council vote.

Brock’s proposed measure would establish a more modest 1.5 percent tax on properties sales over $8 million and the funding would be used at Council’s discretion for a variety of priorities including crossing guards, libraries, after school childcare, public safety and homeless response services. 

Staff are already in the process of preparing a report on Brock’s proposed measure, after which point Council will vote on whether to place it on the ballot. In a June 14, meeting Councilmembers Lana Negrete, Kristin McCowan Christine Parra submitted a request to have staff also prepare a report on Himmelrich’s proposed measure.

“There’s been a lot of confusion about what the tax may or may not do. I’m equally confused, as are the people that have been calling and asking me about it, and so I thought it made perfect sense for us to ask our staff and City Attorney’s Office to prepare a report so that we are all better informed on it,” said Parra.

Initially, Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre questioned the point of the study, given that the ballot is citizen initiative and Council cannot alter it. However, they later voted along with the rest of the Council to support the study on the basis that more publicly available information will help voters make an educated decision. 

Clara@smdp.com