While I appreciate that the Good Times conducts in-depth reportage on critical local issues—last week’s coverage of our hard-fought-for Empty Home Tax ballot initiative being an example—I was initially dismayed at the bold, misleading “Empty Promise” headline. My alarm was that those readers casually leafing through the paper would take away a nagging skepticism about the new ballot measure.
I read your lengthy piece on the June 27 City Council meeting regarding the Empty Home Tax ballot initiative, which will be decided by city voters in November, with the scrutiny of someone who had attended and been intrigued by the meeting. Pleased that reporter Aiyana Moya conscientiously detailed and brought in both sides of the issue, I am hopeful that Good Times will avoid the use of misleading headlines in the future.
I witnessed at the meeting that city staff presented a start-up budget that quickly proved to be misleading and bloated. Start-up costs for the program were projected to be $607,000—even though, as Sandy Brown pointed out, we have concrete data from Oakland whose voters passed a similar measure in 2018. Oakland expended $100,000 to launch their program—which now, in its third year, is expected to bring over $15 million dollars into their city coffers! In the end, our City Council voted unanimously to require staff to come back to them with a projected budget based on actual facts, while I wondered how and why staff presented such erroneous figures.
Your article illustrates that the Empty Home Tax Initiative, which will create a fund dedicated to the construction of truly low-income housing, is full of promise as a pathway toward a more accessible and equitable Santa Cruz. The reality, as reflected in your article, is that administration costs are low, homes—including ADUs—occupied more than three months of the year are not taxed, enforcement protocols and penalties align with what is already in place for other city programs and the program will provide millions of dollars to build affordable housing.
The broad coalition involved in supporting this campaign is ready to step up and fight for the future of our community. We are property owners, renters, seniors, students, new residents and people like me, who have been here for decades. We believe an empty home tax is a step in the right direction!
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The proposed Empty Home Tax won’t accomplish what they claim simply because there aren’t very many empty homes. The data the EHT promoters used is invalid because of the CZU fire and the unreliable census during covid lockdown. The empty homes most people cite anecdotally are actually vacation rentals, and vacation rentals are excluded from the tax in the ordinance. The EHT folks claim there are 2,000 emtpy homes, but most likely it is fewer than 100. Because the city has to pay to administer this program, and because only 15% of the costs to do so will be available from the tax generated, it is sure to cost the city every year in money used otherwise to support city services, water, police/fire, library etc. This is a big mistake. Vote no on the EHT.