News

Santa Clara County supervisors vote to endorse Proposition 13 reform measure

If passed, K-12 schools would receive more than 40% of property tax revenue

Santa Clara County supervisors agreed on July 21 to back Proposition 15, which would raise billions in property tax revenue across the state. Screenshot obtained via Santa Clara County livestream.

A state ballot measure that would upend decades of property tax protections for large commercial owners will soon have another proponent, after Santa Clara County supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to draft a resolution endorsing Proposition 15.

The so-called "split roll" initiative, which will be on the November ballot, would require all commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million to be taxed based on their market value instead of the purchase price. If passed, these properties would lose a longstanding cap on property tax growth under a 1978 state law, Proposition 13.

Proposition 15 is projected to create a windfall for cities, counties and school districts, with property tax revenue expected to grow by more than $11 billion. The biggest winner would be K-12 schools, which receive more than 40% of property tax revenue, followed by Santa Clara County and individual cities.

A study published in May found that local agencies could receive a combined $504 million in additional tax revenue, more than half of which would flow into the county budget. Cities that stand to gain the most under Proposition 15 include San Jose ($76.8M), Sunnyvale ($22.6M), Palo Alto ($20.9M) and Mountain View ($18.6M).

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who proposed the idea to officially endorse Proposition 15, said the ballot measure would be a way to raise more money for schools and public agencies strapped for cash during the coronavirus pandemic. What's more, she said, it would signal that the board of supervisors is willing to "think creatively" about ways to bring revenue into its communities, particularly areas with vast wealth inequities.

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"This ballot measure has the potential to stave off devastating cuts to programs for children, families and our county's most marginalized populations, and it's not regressive," Ellenberg said, referencing her opposition to a sales tax measure earlier in the meeting.

School advocates speaking at the meeting largely derided Proposition 13 as a major blow to public education, describing it as a way to subsidize wealthy companies at the expense of quality childhood education. Parent and PTA activist Nancy Krop said schools have been "decimated" ever since commercial property tax rates were locked in at 1978 rates under the controversial law.

"California schools bear no resemblance to the top quality schools I attended, and every child deserves," Krop said.

Palo Alto resident and City Council candidate Rebecca Eisenberg said she has dedicated her career to fighting the "scourge" caused by Proposition 13, while Emily Cagape, a member of the group Evolve California, said the 1978 law amounts to a tax loophole that lets corporations get away with billions of dollars at the expense of local schools and communities.

Multiple form letters sent from county residents pointed out that data from a 2012 report shows that Proposition 13 enables IBM to pay an annual $200 per acre in property taxes on 200 acres of land, while Palo Alto homeowners are paying the equivalent of $130,000 an acre. Companies with more recently purchased properties are paying much more. The report found Google was paying closer to $15,800 per acre.

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Perhaps the biggest critic of Proposition 15 at the meeting was the county's own assessor, Larry Stone. Reading from a memo, Stone told supervisors that he has always been a vocal critic of Proposition 13 and describes it as one of the worst things that has happened in California, but nevertheless felt that Proposition 15 was the wrong fix. He worried that it would be difficult to scale up his office's staffing in order to reassess commercial properties more frequently, not to mention a crush of something like 25,000 appeals from property owners in the first year.

Stone also warned that small businesses, either owning properties worth more than $3 million or renting as commercial tenants, will be "crushed" by Proposition 15 because of its blunt approach to quickly bring tax assessments up to market value.

"The independent restaurant, cleaners, hair or nail salons, gift stores, grocery stores, and small accountants and attorneys could face increases in property taxes by eight, nine or 10 times," Stone wrote in the memo. "Trying to change 42 years of property tax inequity in a single, convoluted ballot measure and do it fairly is not possible."

The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, an organization of property owners and real estate developers, also sent a letter to supervisors blasting Proposition 15, writing that it would cause 120,000 job losses at a time when unemployment is at record highs. While the bill would raise taxes on commercial property owners, the association said the costs will be filtered down to tenants and consumers.

Speakers at the meeting criticized Larry Stone for his stance, saying the work to reassess properties is his office's job and that the logistical challenge isn't enough of a hurdle to derail the ballot measure. Resident Bob Brownstein said Stone was taking a defeatist approach, but was also being dishonest by saying his office only had 18 months to begin the grueling process of reassessing properties. Proposition 15 starts the phased approach in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

"The U.S. Air Force has a slogan: The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer," Brownstein said. "Mr. Stone's slogan seems to be 'If it's hard to do, don't even try.'"

Palo Alto resident Kelsey Banes argued it was disingenuous to say commercial landlords are going to raise the rent on their tenants in order to offset higher taxes, noting that many are already charging market rate.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said he was torn on whether to support Proposition 15, and that he himself is a property owner. He said many commercial lease agreements are what's called a "triple net" lease, meaning that the costs of property taxes will inevitably hit small businesses and ultimately raise prices for the consumer.

At the same time, Cortese said he really doesn't see another option. Sales taxes are already high and being used for transportation projects, he said, and residential property taxes are largely spent supporting schools through local measures and the state's funding formula.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said a huge number of commercial properties in Santa Clara County are worth more than $3 million and will almost assuredly get hit with higher taxes, a burden that will likely get passed down to tenants.

"We are already close to, if not, the highest taxed county in the state," Wasserman said. "We are already, if not close, to the highest taxed state in the nation. To pass on any new tax from government — I just can't support that."

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Santa Clara County supervisors vote to endorse Proposition 13 reform measure

If passed, K-12 schools would receive more than 40% of property tax revenue

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Jul 24, 2020, 1:33 pm

A state ballot measure that would upend decades of property tax protections for large commercial owners will soon have another proponent, after Santa Clara County supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to draft a resolution endorsing Proposition 15.

The so-called "split roll" initiative, which will be on the November ballot, would require all commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million to be taxed based on their market value instead of the purchase price. If passed, these properties would lose a longstanding cap on property tax growth under a 1978 state law, Proposition 13.

Proposition 15 is projected to create a windfall for cities, counties and school districts, with property tax revenue expected to grow by more than $11 billion. The biggest winner would be K-12 schools, which receive more than 40% of property tax revenue, followed by Santa Clara County and individual cities.

A study published in May found that local agencies could receive a combined $504 million in additional tax revenue, more than half of which would flow into the county budget. Cities that stand to gain the most under Proposition 15 include San Jose ($76.8M), Sunnyvale ($22.6M), Palo Alto ($20.9M) and Mountain View ($18.6M).

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who proposed the idea to officially endorse Proposition 15, said the ballot measure would be a way to raise more money for schools and public agencies strapped for cash during the coronavirus pandemic. What's more, she said, it would signal that the board of supervisors is willing to "think creatively" about ways to bring revenue into its communities, particularly areas with vast wealth inequities.

"This ballot measure has the potential to stave off devastating cuts to programs for children, families and our county's most marginalized populations, and it's not regressive," Ellenberg said, referencing her opposition to a sales tax measure earlier in the meeting.

School advocates speaking at the meeting largely derided Proposition 13 as a major blow to public education, describing it as a way to subsidize wealthy companies at the expense of quality childhood education. Parent and PTA activist Nancy Krop said schools have been "decimated" ever since commercial property tax rates were locked in at 1978 rates under the controversial law.

"California schools bear no resemblance to the top quality schools I attended, and every child deserves," Krop said.

Palo Alto resident and City Council candidate Rebecca Eisenberg said she has dedicated her career to fighting the "scourge" caused by Proposition 13, while Emily Cagape, a member of the group Evolve California, said the 1978 law amounts to a tax loophole that lets corporations get away with billions of dollars at the expense of local schools and communities.

Multiple form letters sent from county residents pointed out that data from a 2012 report shows that Proposition 13 enables IBM to pay an annual $200 per acre in property taxes on 200 acres of land, while Palo Alto homeowners are paying the equivalent of $130,000 an acre. Companies with more recently purchased properties are paying much more. The report found Google was paying closer to $15,800 per acre.

Perhaps the biggest critic of Proposition 15 at the meeting was the county's own assessor, Larry Stone. Reading from a memo, Stone told supervisors that he has always been a vocal critic of Proposition 13 and describes it as one of the worst things that has happened in California, but nevertheless felt that Proposition 15 was the wrong fix. He worried that it would be difficult to scale up his office's staffing in order to reassess commercial properties more frequently, not to mention a crush of something like 25,000 appeals from property owners in the first year.

Stone also warned that small businesses, either owning properties worth more than $3 million or renting as commercial tenants, will be "crushed" by Proposition 15 because of its blunt approach to quickly bring tax assessments up to market value.

"The independent restaurant, cleaners, hair or nail salons, gift stores, grocery stores, and small accountants and attorneys could face increases in property taxes by eight, nine or 10 times," Stone wrote in the memo. "Trying to change 42 years of property tax inequity in a single, convoluted ballot measure and do it fairly is not possible."

The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, an organization of property owners and real estate developers, also sent a letter to supervisors blasting Proposition 15, writing that it would cause 120,000 job losses at a time when unemployment is at record highs. While the bill would raise taxes on commercial property owners, the association said the costs will be filtered down to tenants and consumers.

Speakers at the meeting criticized Larry Stone for his stance, saying the work to reassess properties is his office's job and that the logistical challenge isn't enough of a hurdle to derail the ballot measure. Resident Bob Brownstein said Stone was taking a defeatist approach, but was also being dishonest by saying his office only had 18 months to begin the grueling process of reassessing properties. Proposition 15 starts the phased approach in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

"The U.S. Air Force has a slogan: The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer," Brownstein said. "Mr. Stone's slogan seems to be 'If it's hard to do, don't even try.'"

Palo Alto resident Kelsey Banes argued it was disingenuous to say commercial landlords are going to raise the rent on their tenants in order to offset higher taxes, noting that many are already charging market rate.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said he was torn on whether to support Proposition 15, and that he himself is a property owner. He said many commercial lease agreements are what's called a "triple net" lease, meaning that the costs of property taxes will inevitably hit small businesses and ultimately raise prices for the consumer.

At the same time, Cortese said he really doesn't see another option. Sales taxes are already high and being used for transportation projects, he said, and residential property taxes are largely spent supporting schools through local measures and the state's funding formula.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said a huge number of commercial properties in Santa Clara County are worth more than $3 million and will almost assuredly get hit with higher taxes, a burden that will likely get passed down to tenants.

"We are already close to, if not, the highest taxed county in the state," Wasserman said. "We are already, if not close, to the highest taxed state in the nation. To pass on any new tax from government — I just can't support that."

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Local
Stanford
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:29 pm
Local, Stanford
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:29 pm
11 people like this

This will not get passed onto tenants as they are paying market rates. Anyone taking Econ 1 would know that. This will get passed on to landlords - they will pay the tax and their properties will be worth less. But this is seems fair - tax some of the huge property gains these commercial landlords made over the last 10 years and use it to fund schools.


TS Member
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:36 pm
TS Member, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:36 pm
4 people like this

Question:

Does this mean that someone who owns a small house worth about $3 million in Palo Alto and rents it out will now be paying property taxes on the the market value of the property?


Resident here
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:46 pm
Resident here, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:46 pm
12 people like this

@TS Member,
No, absolutely not. Residential properties will not be affected. This is only commercial and non-agricultural industrial properties.

(Plus, those with values $3M or less in holdings would continue to be taxes based on their old lower basis, but again, this tax doesn't apply to residential property, regardless of whether the homeowner is renting it out.)


TS Member
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:47 pm
TS Member, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Like this comment

@ Resident here

Thanks for your answer. This was not clear to me.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:18 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:18 pm
23 people like this

This is a great idea, a necessity even, BUT ....

Until they explain this and have some indication that people
really know what they are voting for - I cannot support this
much as I think it is needed.

One thing is that these tax hikes need to be phased in over
some reasonable amount of time.

I would rather see all property taxes be made progressive
so people whose living quarters take up a small amount of
land pay a small amount of taxes, and big-shot billionaires
who scrape out our wonderful hills for giant complexes have
to pay multiples that those who are more environmentally
conscious pay.

We drastically need some kind of incentive to slow the growth
and destruction of our natural habitat, and put a check on
obnoxious conspicuous consumers.


resident
Community Center
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:20 pm
resident, Community Center
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:20 pm
21 people like this

Applying Prop 13 to commercial properties was a big mistake. Now is as good a time as any to fix this.


Resident here
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:31 pm
Resident here, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:31 pm
8 people like this

@Crescent Park
I had that same concern. Read about it on ballotpedia. It IS phasing in, and the legislature seems to have discretion to lengthen the time. Maybe someone who knows more can explain.


Resident here
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2020 at 12:48 pm
Resident here, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2020 at 12:48 pm
20 people like this

Not only is this phased in, the large commercial properties it affects will get that when families hit by the 2017 federal tax increases on homeowners got no lead time. Our property taxes went up $10,000/year just from that, with no phasing in, no time to adjust. It's just hard to take the complaints seriously when the percentage of property taxes covered by residents versus large companies has grown while the companies have profited mightily.


JC
College Terrace
on Jul 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm
JC, College Terrace
on Jul 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm
14 people like this

Prop 13 passed containing loopholes for commercial properties which allowed commercial properties to change hands without a new property tax assessment. This is what commercial real estate lawyers specialize in.

For instance, circa 1975 Palo Alto property tax revenue was split approximately 50-50 between residential and commercial properties. Today, because of these sweetheart loopholes, residential properties pay approximately 75% of property taxes while commercial properties contribute approximately 25%. A percentage that will continue its downward trajectory without Prop 13 reform.

Many commercial property owners have had a fantastic break for 45 years charging market rates while paying relatively minimal property taxes. Especially those families who have owned large chunks of commercial real estate for generations of which we have a number in Palo Alto.


Mike-Crescent Park
Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm
Mike-Crescent Park, Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm
22 people like this

If you are giddy with joy that commercial property owners will be punished by this proposed change think again. The increased taxes are an increase in their cost of business. The increase will be passed to the leasees. And most of those leasees run businesses that have customers. The prices to those customers will be increased. Those customers are mostly you and me.

Original Prop 13 triggers a reappraisal when a property is sold or changes ownership. Real estate attorneys have found a way to game ownership. Work on that if you want change. Not wholesale market value reappraisal on everyone. That will only make the cost of living here is California more unbearable than it already is- for all of us.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2020 at 3:54 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2020 at 3:54 pm
32 people like this

Mike-Crescent Park ... price rises, or price adjustments are one of the functional ways that the free-market still works.

Prices cannot rise when people do not have the money to pay for the things ... so commercial real estate values will probably fall, prices will not go up, but it will take time for these signals to percolate through the economy.

Prices were so high the most restaurants were operating so precariously in the red zone they immediately folded under C-19. Rents should go down - it would be much better to shake out commercial property speculators than it would be to shake up restaurants and small businesses.


Steve N
another community
on Jul 27, 2020 at 7:44 am
Steve N, another community
on Jul 27, 2020 at 7:44 am
23 people like this

Just another blow to small business owners, now having the taxes passed down to them.


Kathy
Greater Miranda
on Jul 27, 2020 at 10:41 am
Kathy, Greater Miranda
on Jul 27, 2020 at 10:41 am
21 people like this

No to new taxes. These taxes will simply be passed on to all of us as the cost of doing business. Let's recognize this for what it is --- a money grab by public employee unions at our expense.

At a time a high unemployment, financial strain, and great uncertainty, the California Teacher's Association, the California and American Federation of Teachers (the teachers unions), the SEIU, and Unite HERE (public employee unions), the principal proponents and financial sponsors of Prop 15, Web Link), which stand to benefit financially from it, wish to tax us more, in a state that is already one of the most highly taxed in the nation. Let's just recognize this for what it is ---- a tremendous transfer of money from us to unionized public employees --- as our property taxes go to cities, counties, and schools, which spend upwards of 70+% of their expenses on unionized public employees salaries and benefits - pension benefits which are unfunded and are strangling our cities, counties, and state. Take a look at the state's public schools assessment testing, Web Link, to see if you think the teacher's unions are doing a good job educating our students: only 51% are proficient in English Language Arts, and only 40% are proficient in math statewide --- and the teachers' unions work to make sure there is no accountability to remedy this state of affairs, and make sure to cripple and eliminate any competition (choice/charter schools) to its monopoly status. No to unrestrained spending on unionized public employees with no accountability. No on Prop 15.


Pacsailor
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2020 at 10:59 am
Pacsailor, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2020 at 10:59 am
22 people like this

Many don’t realize that the leases have changed over time to what is called net leases, meaning that the tenant pays for his/her share of the property tax, insurance and maintenance of the property. So when these properties are reassessed the new higher tax will be passed in to the tenants who will be passing it on to their customers that is us. So beware of what you wish it might come true.


Too bad this is poorly written.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2020 at 11:43 am
Too bad this is poorly written., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2020 at 11:43 am
12 people like this

I'm a resident and I strongly support our public schools and strongly desire Prop 13 reform; however, this seems like a poorly written proposition. As a resident, I also support local-serving retail which will be severely impacted by this.

Gradual roll back makes much more sense to me and would deliver tax reform we need. I won't be voting for Rebecca Eisenberg who seems not to grasp the basic economics here. Larry Stone's comments, seem to me, spot on.

The devil is the details with these kinds if choices. We need strong critical thinkers with experience on Council right now. Rebecca has just demonstrated to me with her statement above that she lacks both.


K in MP
Menlo Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 12:00 pm
K in MP, Menlo Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 12:00 pm
30 people like this

It astounds me that people as smart as those in Palo Alto think that a tax on commercial property will not be passed down until it hits the consumer. "Big Business" is not a factory that prints money - they get it by producing a product and selling it. Taxes are a cost of doing business that just gets passed on to whoever purchases the product being sold.

And real estate prices won't fall because of the higher tax - every business is in the same boat, so they will all pass the tax along.

That is, until they get out of the "boat" and leave California for a more tax-friendly state.

We are taxing ourselves into the poorhouse. Wake up and reject this tax!


Jennifer
Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 3:03 pm
Jennifer, Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 3:03 pm
18 people like this

For apartment renters, this additional tax will be passed down to renters. I've been living in my apartment for 15 years, so my rent is below market. I doubt my landlord will continue to be so nice if his property taxes were to go up dramatically. Tons of small businesses will suffer because their leases are called triple net leases, which means they have to pay the property taxes, not the landlords. Since their leases are usually long-term, they are stuck with paying the unexpected higher property taxes that they did not factor in when they signed the lease. How will they pay for the additional property taxes? Of course pass it down to the consumers or else they can't survive! Please don't be naive thinking that renters and consumers won't be affected. There is no free lunch.


Vik Lowry
Midtown
on Jul 27, 2020 at 6:12 pm
Vik Lowry, Midtown
on Jul 27, 2020 at 6:12 pm
Like this comment

Generally speaking property taxes only go up when property changes hands that includes residential and commercial. If you think that taxing only commercial businesses is going to be help money for everything, think again. It’s these commercial businesses that pay for our existing infrastructure right now. Once you start taxing these commercial businesses the land values are going to plummet and California will lose our thriving economy to no-state states that are business friendly lien Texas and Floria. Then WE will lose jobs in whatever factories, tech Compan83/ or businesses we work at!! Also Say good by to your benefits and perks!


musical
Palo Verde
on Jul 27, 2020 at 6:21 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Jul 27, 2020 at 6:21 pm
2 people like this

^ Generally speaking property taxes inflate 2% every year.


Art Liberman
Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 7:39 pm
Art Liberman, Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2020 at 7:39 pm
9 people like this

Rebecca Eisenberg - really?
"City Council candidate Rebecca Eisenberg said she has dedicated her career to fighting the "scourge" caused by Proposition 13" -
what have you done?


BruceS
Greenmeadow
on Jul 29, 2020 at 9:02 am
BruceS, Greenmeadow
on Jul 29, 2020 at 9:02 am
2 people like this

A question (as I'm too lazy to read the text of the proposition, though I'll probably try before the election): is the $3M limit inflation adjusted? If not, it is a big negative, at least in the long run.

Two interesting factors that I didn't see discussed here:
1. The pandemic (I would think) will hit commercial property values significantly, as a lot of businesses are failing, and office space isn't expanding with workers staying home for the duration. That will probably help with 'phasing in', though it does make for a double hit on property owners who are renting their space out.
2. In the long run, the increased tax will most likely (again IMHO) significantly reduce the value of commercial space, again a double hit on landowners, but overall for California I'm not sure a bad thing, as it might push more toward residential use, which is very much in need.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2020 at 11:06 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2020 at 11:06 am
Like this comment

Posted by K in MP, a resident of Menlo Park

>> It astounds me that people as smart as those in Palo Alto think that a tax on commercial property will not be passed down until it hits the consumer.

It depends, actually.

>> "Big Business" is not a factory that prints money

Monopolies do seem like they are able to print money, though.

>> Taxes are a cost of doing business that just gets passed on to whoever purchases the product being sold.

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It all depends on-- everything. Market conditions, overall economic conditions, the competition, and so on and do forth.

>> And real estate prices won't fall because of the higher tax

Actually, often they do. But, higher taxes often get passed on to customers. It all depends.

>> That is, until they get out of the "boat" and leave California for a more tax-friendly state.

We have too many jobs -right here- anyway. It would be nice if some of those jobs moved to areas where it is possible to build new housing more affordably. Tracy Hills, for example: Web Link


>> We are taxing ourselves into the poorhouse. Wake up and reject this tax!

The real reason that I posted: you assume that if governments *can* raise taxes, they *will* raise taxes. I don't blame you-- some proponents are arguing this way, too. But, -leveling the playing field- doesn't have to mean raising overall revenue. It could, but, it doesn't have to. I am definitely in favor of leveling the playing field.


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