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County raises property taxes on some Stanford homes

Original post made on Oct 19, 2019

About 50 Stanford University faculty members who purchased their homes through ground leases in the past three years are getting sticker shock after the Santa Clara County Tax Assessor's Office has reassessed their property values.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, October 19, 2019, 7:23 AM

Comments (22)

Posted by Local, Not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2019 at 10:48 am

"Up until about 2017, the prices of homes on Stanford land kept pace with those of residences in the surrounding open market,"

I really don't think that's true, from what I've observed among friends who bought since the '90s. There really is nothing equivalent to these large mid-West-like neighborhoods in the local open market, either.

I think people have a point that Stanford owns the land and is benefiting from being able to attract talent here who can afford the homes. Stanford should pay the property tax on the land.

The other reason Stanford should pay, aside from the fact that they can, is that they can also write off the costs, whereas with the new $10,000 SALT deduction limit now, the homeowners are being hit with a triple whammy.

We are not Stanford, but our taxes went up a hefty five figures for 2018. And we had not enough time to plan for the changes, which hurt us in others ways that essentially cost us our high school senior's college fund. Even the software makers (with their lawyers and accountants) were sending out faulty programs for a long time, we had no chance to even try to soften the blow.

Because there is no cost-of-living adjustment in the federal tax code changes, there is this huge unequal treatment under the law across the country. Homeowners in red states can still mostly deduct their expenses whereas homeowners in blue states got hit with a hefty hike in costs that suddenly threatens people's stability and futures.

Given that tax policy is social policy, really whenever there is an income threshold, the tax code should have to include a cost-of-living factor or it's seriously unequal treatment under the law.

I don't know why no one gets that this tax change is the next wave of more surgical market disruptions to give those at the very top "bargains" in the best real estate markets. (I saw the last crash coming years before including the timing and lo and behold, also the profits that sector reaped from it since. There is a lot of money at the very top in the world, and real estate is a favorite investment.) With the 2017 tax law changes, suddenly investors were advantaged and the most vulnerable homeowners disadvantaged. CA markets cooled suddenly as it also became harder to get into a home, while Midwestern markets surged from Californians who had to move away. And billions suddenly funneled from the schools and cities of California and other blue states to red states.

Of course, Democrats in CA have been so busy demonizing homeowners to the advantage of those same real estate elite/developers, they're doing nothing about it. Not even countering the most obviously stupid justification that the tax changes are due because of CA's high taxes. California has a high cost of living, so taxes are higher but so are salaries, which mean people are already paying a disproportionately high federal tax because of the higher salaries. Their deduction limit should be adjusted by cost of living. California was already a net contributor to the federal treasury before the tax changes.

I find it discouraging that in our local paper that could at least brush on the topic of the Silicon Valley "house poor", the topic of what the federal tax changes did to people wasn't covered, but this issue at Stanford was.

As much as I believe it's unfair to the Stanford homeowners and appreciate the way Stanford is keeping housing more affordable for its faculty, ordinary homeowners beyond the Stanford bubble -- who sacrifice and scrap for decades to stabilize their costs and housing by getting into property* -- have it way worse. (Including that people think the equity increases over time in SV are like winning the lottery, when people usually have to remain mortgaged within an inch of their lives and have no money for other savings -- e.g., our sole retirement account did better for the investment than our home has, and we have nothing else because putting a roof over our heads remains so difficult.)

Posted by confused
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 19, 2019 at 10:00 pm

I'm really confused by this report. How can the county reassess properties leading to higher taxes when that seems inconsistent with Prop 13? And why would Stanford faculty pay the property tax on Stanford land, that Stanford, rather than the faculty homeowners/lease-owners, actually owns?

Posted by Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2019 at 12:35 am

Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat is a registered user.

@confused. I think the County reassessed houses on Stanford because they can. They seem to be helpless when it comes to the trillion dollar companies throughout the County, but gleefully go after Stanford. Stanford did not cause our housing crisis.

Stanford profs pay the taxes on the land because that’s the deal - take it or leave it. Professors are not high earners. They go to Stanford for the research facilities. Usually they negotiate some sort of housing deal so in addition to not owning the land, I imagine many who have come after 2015 will never have much equity in their home either.

@local. Stanford can’t take deductions because they don’t pay taxes.

No, I’m not from or affiliated with Stanford. I’ve just been here a very long time and am more upset by what our county officials are doing now than in all the increased congestion, expense, development that has happened in the last thirty years.

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2019 at 2:04 am

You might want to revisit the article. Reassessing the Stanford homes is according to the law. They are in fact helpless to do anything more with companies, that would require repairing Prop 13 so they pay their fair share again.

Stanford pays property taxes for land used for commercial development like the research park and shopping center. I don't see why it wouldn't pay property taxes for the leased land for Stanford housing.

Stanford is a pretty big entity in the area. They chose to throw their weight behind the frenetic development, they can hardly be surprised that their ambitious development plans are going to run up against those constraints. It's really kind of shocking how businesses seem so naive to the way their supporting overdevelopment generally could come back to bite them.

Posted by Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2019 at 6:48 am

Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat is a registered user.

@local. I didn’t say that I support the expansion. I just think the County hasn’t done anything to curtail the overdevelopment of businesses and the underdevelopment of housing throughout the County. There are no county wide housing impact fees (as far as I know... enlighten me if there are).no county wide plan or effort on housing. There’s a huge focus on Stanford when, clearly, focus is truly needed throughout many parts of the county.

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2019 at 9:35 am

"I just think the County hasn’t done anything to curtail the overdevelopment of businesses and the underdevelopment of housing throughout the County. "

I can't argue with that. You make a good point. But just in terms of the power and funding of each entity, and their overall influence, Stanford is really the 800 lb gorilla. If they, for example, decided to open a satellite campus as a kind of anchor in another California or even Oregon community that would benefit from it and where there is affordable housing, they would help create another job center that could mitigate the black hole effect here. The county has no such reach or ability. If Stanford had been looking ahead and helped at all to mitigate the overgrowth relative to the infrastructure (and water, etc), they wouldn't face such opposition now.

The County has no power with the companies, but Stanford is a big reason they have taken over downtown. They have far more weight to have stopped it, even if it just meant buying up real estate and designating it as incubator space and resident-serving retail.

Posted by Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Because the county has turned Stanford into its scapegoat is a registered user.

@ local. But the County does have power... they won’t wield it. A county wide housing impact fee would at least generate money for housing. A regional approach to housing and transportation is the only way to mitigate impacts of all development. And let’s not ignore what prop 13 has done. Read the Santa Clara county annual report re: property tax revenue and you’ll get a sense of just how much. In some cities, you’ll see that 30-50% of homes contribute as little as 10% of property tax revenue. The County’s time needs to be spent on developing a larger plan - Stanford could decide to not develop, then what is the County going to do?

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2019 at 6:00 pm

"A county wide housing impact fee would at least generate money for housing."

People in this area just get so used to bashing anyone with a roof over their heads, they don't stop to think about just how hard that remains for main people. Neither proximity to Stanford nor billionaires does anything positive for us, just negative. With the federal tax and state tax increases on Californians the last couple of years, more would be making people homeless in order to generate housing development money.

I know what prop 13 has done, but it's not that simple. This area has been crushingly difficult to afford for decades. The discourse is really no different now than in the 80's boom. People who want to stay go through decades of sacrifice most people can't even imagine in order to stabilize their housing costs somewhat and not be at the mercy of rent increases and moving every 12 months. People take the long view, calculating that things will even out somewhat over decades. So, just because someone is paying less in property taxes than someone else at a given moment in time does not mean that they are freeloaders -- when they got in their houses, THEY were the ones shouldering the burden while others' expenses finally leveled out.

No, Prop 13 should be fixed by getting commercial properties to pay a more similar proportion to what they paid when Prop 13 came into being. Frankly, some relief for homeowners suffering from the SALT deduction loss (that took no account of the differing costs of living across the country) would be more fair.

I sympathize with the Stanford residents, but they are frankly way, way better off than we are. Stanford should be paying the tax increase their. It's their choice to rent out at whatever rate they want, but it is commercial property for them, and they do pay taxes.

This October, I wish someone would convene a grand jury to look at safety compromises because of overdevelopment and how to incorporate safety and health into planning. I would not begrudge Stanford its expansion if it hadn't egged on the overdevelopment.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2019 at 8:03 pm

I don't see how taxing commercial properties more, will help the homeowners with lower taxes.

Homeowners have consistently voted for politicians who have raised taxes, so they should hold themselves responsible. If you want lower taxes, then vote in a different crew of politicians.

The current crop of Democratic presidential candidates are promising "free health care", "free college", etc. You all know it's not free, it will be us who will be paying for it.

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2019 at 10:23 pm

@common sense,
In the mid-70's commercial properties paid just under a half of property tax rolls in large counties like LA and in Silicon Valley. Because of Prop 13, by 2017, residents paid the majority and commercial properties only like a quarter.

There will be a referendum on the ballot in 2020, I think, to reassess commercial properties more often so they pay their fair share again. This could take some of the pressure off of homeowners.

The biggest and most punishing tax increase we've ever experienced came from Washington 2017 and was claimed to be a cut. Voting for a referendum is a much more direct way to change tax policy.

As far as "free" healthcare, we can in fact learn from every other first-world nation providing universal affordable healthcare for way less than we spend per capita to NOT cover everyone. We already spend more per capita than any other first-world nation and are the only one to not have a good quality universal healthcare system.

We've tried it the rapacious concentrations of wealth that destroy competition (in politics and the marketplace) way. How about we try it the way that actually gets results everywhere else in the world? I repeat, we are already paying way more than we need to, and getting way less for it.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2019 at 4:08 am

@Local, not Stanford - even if the split roll ballot measure, which taxes commercial properties at market values, passes, homeowners will still be required to pay the 1% of the assessed value of their homes. The split roll does not reduce homeowner's taxes.

And if you read the split roll ballot measure, you will find that the state collects all the additional taxes to redistribute among the entire state. So homeowners in Santa Clara county won't see much benefit; instead it gives the State Legislature a new $10 billion pot of money to allocation - a politican's dream for collecting campaign contributions.

And additional taxes are passed onto customers. Any business that can't pass on the taxes to their customers will likely close.

And for other nations that offer "free" health care, Great Britain targets a maximum of 18 weeks to see a doctor; in 2018 only 44% met that standard. In Canada it takes an average of 19.8 weeks from the referral from a general practitioner to get treatment from a specialist. In the U.S. the average is 3.5 weeks (24 days) to schedule an appointment with a doctor. I go to PAMF for health service, and I can usually get in to see a doctor in a few days (may not be my doctor, but one that works on the "team").

And the latest flavor of the month in the Democratic presidential race refuses to say how much taxes will go up for the "Medicare for All" plan she endorses. Did you know that the latest Medicare trustee's report says by 2026, Medicare will not be able to cover it's cost? At least Bernie is honest and says he's going to tax the middle class to pay for "Medicare for All". I work, and I get health insurance from my employer, who pays 90% of the premium, so my costs are actually fairly low. I think this is the case for most people who are employed. My portion of the health care premium is less than what Bernie would tax me.

Of course one way that "Medicare for All" will control costs is by creating a monopoly for paying of doctors and nurses. Doctors in Canada earn 50% less than the equivalent in the United States; in Great Britain doctors make 75% of what a US doctor makes. I don't think the health care industry is going to be for this.

Posted by Old Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2019 at 6:33 am

@Common sense
Would to “walk” any of that back ?
GOP can’t get any of their facts straight.
Did you see what trump did during the spacewalk when the astronauts corrected him? What a man-baby !

Posted by Careful
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 21, 2019 at 8:27 am

Common sense:

How do you know who homeowners vote for?

Posted by Goat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2019 at 10:42 am

Goat is a registered user.

@local. I'm well aware of how hard it is to afford to be here! But, I've also learned by reading Palo Alto's report and Santa Clara County that in Palo Alto, about 50% of the people here rent. Why? Because there is zero incentive to sell. When Prop 13 passed in the 70's, there was an inheritance tax - it could go up to something like 70% depending on the size of the inheritance. So, you could get the tax basis, but you may have had to sell to pay the inheritance tax. Now? Now, you have a capital gains tax that will take almost 40% if you sell but you can pass something like $10M to your estate paying 0% in taxes! Not one estate attorney would ever advice one to sell! Rent it out! They move away, rent the place out and then pass to their kids - who might also decide to rent it out. Tax basis remains the same. I would say that we could both agree that the problem is complex.

Why do you think Stanford residents have it, "better?" They can't pass their homes to their kids, they only get leases for 35 years so they can't age at home anymore. Lose your job, you lose your housing. Your spouse dies and if you're not eligible for housing, you and the kids are out.

Posted by Fairmeadow
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Anyone that says they feel sorry for Stanford Professors are out of their minds, they have made IT in every sense of the word.

Posted by Who feels sorry?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Who feels sorry? is a registered user.

@fairmeadow. Who said they feel sorry for Stanford profs? And if they did, what’s wrong with that? I’d feel bad for anyone who had their taxes go up unexpectedly. No one plans for that.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Stanford professors and certain employees have a choice whether to buy a home on or off-campus. If you want to own the land and pass it to your children, join the group of global bidders, and be prepared to mortgage yourself to death. You will probably spend years bidding against international buyers who feel entitled to launder their mysterious wealth in our residential real estate (and rent it back to us).
This group of professors should consider themselves lucky to have a home in the first place. Just pay the increase and be grateful.

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2019 at 12:20 am

Re: Prop 13. Just because a proposal isn’t done well does not mean that the problem it’s trying to solve isn’t solvable. Homeowners are bearing a way greater proportion of the property tax burden than they used to, and many commercial entities that can far better afford it are paying less, that ought to be fixed, period.

Re: healthcare. I would highly recommend that you read T. R. Reid’s The Healing of America. He traveled around the world and gives a good picture of what healthcare everywhere is and isn’t. Why bring up systems we would never adopt here? Great Britain’s (where all the doctors and the whole system are nationalized) or Canada (where the government is the only insurer)? Friends in Switzerland and Germany objectively have better, cheaper care, and they never have anything like the kind of wait times I experience here.
“That there is more than one country outside the US with a unique health system, might surprise some whose rhetoric suggests a vast wasteland of a series of Soviet style medical gulags. OECD data shows that waiting times are a problem in some countries, but only about half of those in the OECD. The others are like the United States in lack of significant waiting times, but unlike us they manage to do this with their entire population covered, and at significantly lower costs.”
Web Link
“Beyond anecdotes, there is actual data, such as the Commonwealth Fund study showing that "U.S. patients reported relatively longer waiting times for doctor appointments when they were sick, but relatively shorter waiting times to be seen at the ER, see a specialist, and have elective surgery.” Additionally, Americans are less likely to have a regular doctor, less likely to get prescriptions filled, less likely to get follow-up care, less likely to keep a doctor long-term, and have a harder time getting taken care of nights and weekends. In another report, the Commonwealth Fund has shown the US ranks 19th out of 19 countries evaluated on preventing deaths that are amenable to adequate health care, an excellent measure of the overall performance of a country’s health care system.
In a lot of countries, if you get sick at night, the doctor comes to you, and it’s not expensive. No wait time there.

Waits for specialty care at PAMF in my experience can actually be pretty long, even for semi-urgent problems (that they themselves deemed so in urgent care). Regardless, you can’t compare data because the US simply doesn’t collect and monitor the data the way many other countries do, precisely because our system is the only one that doesn’t provide universal affordable high-quality care.
Web Link

I’m not going to argue for Medicare for all because I don’t agree that it’s the best way we could do this. However, Republicans’ insistence that we cannot fix this when the entire first world has (in a variety of different ways) just shows that they’ve lost their way – all ideology and no more pragmatism, sense, or fiscal responsibility. Our nation spends twice as much as the next most expensive system per capita already, we’re the only one that doesn’t cover everyone, and we don’t nearly get the best care. That is hardly fiscally responsible or smart. I have employment-based coverage, the best plan we can get, and it leaves us with thousands in unpredictable uncovered costs every year and abusively ridiculous paperwork. That’s great if it doesn’t affect you, but the uniquely excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy, largely due to private for-profit insurance, is the biggest addressable wasteful expense in our system.

It’s really sad that the rest of the first world can solve this problem but we don’t value the lives of our own citizens enough to just look around the world for ideas. We can be better than this.

Posted by Local, not Stanford
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2019 at 12:21 am

(by the way, love your abbreviated online handle – goats are smart!)

RE: Stanford residents having it better. You wrote:
“Why do you think Stanford residents have it, "better?" They can't pass their homes to their kids, they only get leases for 35 years so they can't age at home anymore.”

Well, I disagree with your opinion about why we have 50% renters. For many people, the equation of coming to a good school district while the kids are in high school then returning where they have a much better quality of life means renting. That’s one of many scenarios. We’ve had a lot of rental building in the area, too. Lots of new entry level workers moving in, they get rentals. When people own the property for a long time, too, they can often rent it out for less than they would have to if the house were newly purchased (or were owned by an investor group), so it’s actually better for the renters if the property doesn’t change hands. Win-win. I’ve known many people who rented in Palo Alto who could never have afforded to buy such a home. Lots of people can’t even imagine staying long term but have a reason to rent. People forget what it’s like to get housing in the Bay Area – you often can’t really decide in what town you’re going to end up, anyway. There’s often no linear relationship between what you get and cost, especially because of Prop 13.

Stanford residents have it better because their housing costs are lower and they can still own the home and gain equity. They can actually live their lives with money to do things like travel to see their families in other states for the holidays or pay for their medical care without having to keep refinancing the house to the hilt. They can afford to fix up their houses, and pay others to do the repairs (speaking from experience). They can save and invest money rather than having nothing at all except the house. Being able to stay for 35 years is better than I’ll be able to do, especially after the loss of the SALT deduction. The county is probably right to adjust the bases of the houses, though, because it wouldn’t be right for Stanford residents to be able to transfer their ultra-low bases to other counties.

That said, the residents are not benefiting from owning the property itself, Stanford should pay the tax on it. It only makes sense. I do not begrudge them their better circumstances just because things are harder for me, they didn’t cause it and I’m generally happy for others when things are good, aren’t you?

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2019 at 5:32 am

@Local, not Stanford - prop 13 solved a problem that property owners were being taxed out of their properties, be it residential or commercial properties. It's worked well for over 40 years. Property owners are make a commitment and investment when they buy a property, and prop 13 defines their cost when they make that decision, just like when the owner gets a 30 year fixed mortgage. Prior to prop 13 government would not care about how money was spent, and would raise property taxes to the point of taxing property owners out of their properties.

We've seen both locally and at the state level new taxes being pushed with false promises. Remember the last PAUSD school parcel tax? the promise of mental health services, STEM classes and smaller class sizes? I remember reading articles in the PA Weekly that the class sizes at the high schools were large, articles about middle schools not educating on math, etc.

And I remember the extra state income tax rates passed a few years ago, and now the state has a $21 billion surplus for the fiscal year ending in 2020. Are they using that extra money to solve any of our existing problems - homelessness, better funded education, more available healthcare? better transportation options to relieve commute times? According to you they are not. Instead, they want to attack prop 13 and collect another $10 billion in taxes by removing prop 13 for commercial properties

Posted by Goat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2019 at 9:20 pm

Goat is a registered user.

@local. love goats. They are sooo smart.

My neighborhood is a high rental neighborhood. We are losing those awesome smaller homes and quadplexes (that were "affordable") because they are all being torn down and replaced with super-sized single family homes. That's not prop 13's fault. This is a very complex area with no simple solution. Suffice to say that CA needs to do something about its property tax base since cost of living exceeds the 1% increase that is allowed on property taxes under Prop 13 (and yes, I do benefit from Prop 13 and wouldn't be living in the area if it weren't for Prop 13 since there's no way I could buy my home now and pay what the taxes would be).

Okay, I'm calling you on your gross generalization about Stanford profs. It sounds extremely anecdotal. I've been in the area long enough to know people from all different neighborhoods (even different cities!) and know very few people who aren't struggling/juggling finances to make it work here - especially if they're about 40, married and with children. Of course, there are the exceptions in every community - the'ers who made it big in the 90's, the techies who made it big in the 00's and yes, I'm sure there are profs with patents who have "made it." (though, this is equating "making it" with money which is a big struggle, but we never know what problems people are dealing with...) But, good for all of them! Seriously. I wish good fortune for all. I don't begrudge my neighbors one thing and feel very, very fortunate for all the amazing resources we have in the Bay Area.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2019 at 11:10 pm

^ "... the 1% increase that is allowed on property taxes under Prop 13"

Assessed value can rise by twice that much. Check this year's bill against last year.

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