San Mateo County supervisors move toward sales tax ballot measure

Board votes July 26 on sending 20-year extension of sales tax to voters

Following up on a vow to find funding to help alleviate the housing crisis in San Mateo County, the county's Board of Supervisors on July 12 asked county officials to draw up a ballot measure to extend an existing half-cent general sales tax for 20 more years.

The unanimous vote to start the process to put the sales tax extension on the Nov. 8 ballot came after the supervisors heard from a pollster that a bond measure to fund affordable housing had little chance of passage. Polling showed that the sales tax extension, by contrast, received much more support than it needed to pass.

While the sales tax is a general tax and won't be specifically for housing, supervisors said they hoped it would give the county a stable, long-term source of funding that might be leveraged to finance housing projects.

At their previous meeting, the supervisors had heard a report from the 55-member Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force that had been meeting since November. The task force — made up of representatives of every city and town in the county as well as business organizations and employers, nonprofit and for-profit housing developers, housing advocates, labor organizations and educators — agreed that finding funding for more affordable housing in the county is a priority.

The sales tax extension was not the funding source the supervisors had initially wanted. They had asked about putting a $500 million housing bond measure on the ballot, and about passing an additional sales tax. But initial polling said the $500 million bond measure wouldn't gain the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Research also showed a new sales tax isn't possible because the county's sales tax rate is already the maximum allowed by the state.

So the supervisors sent pollster Brian Godbe of Godbe Research back to examine voter opinions again, this time on extending the existing half-cent general sales tax passed four years ago, and on smaller bond measures.

Mr. Godbe had good news and bad news for the supervisors on July 12. The good news is that more than 70 percent of voters said they would either definitely or probably support extending the existing sales tax for another 20 years. Because the tax is a general tax, which can be used for a myriad of county purposes, it needs approval of only over 50 percent of the voters.

Voters, however, were not so supportive of a bond measure that would go toward affordable housing, either at a $345 million level or a $295 million level. Slightly less than 63 percent of voters either definitely or probably supported the $345 million bond measure and just less than 61 percent either definitely or probably supported the $295 million bond measure. Earlier polling had shown not quite 58 percent supporting a $500 million housing bond measure.

The bond measure, because it is a tax for a specific purpose, housing, would require more than two-thirds approval.

Mr. Godbe said the margin of error on the polling data was about 5 percentage points in either direction.

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier asked Mr. Godbe if he had ever known of a bond measure that polled below the threshold needed for passage being passed after voters had been "educated."

"I think this is too low a number to feel comfortable recommending it," Mr. Godbe said. "That two-thirds threshold is hard to get to."

As at previous meetings, a number of speakers urged the supervisors to help with a housing problem that more than one said the word "crisis" is inadequate to describe.

Michael Lane of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California said some form of financing is key to making any changes. "Economic factors are fraying our communities. We're really starting to feel this now. The damage is being done to families," he said. "Now is the time for bold action commensurate with the scale of the problem."

The sales tax extension was not the first choice of the supervisors. "I was really kind of hopeful that we would be able to have a bond," said Supervisor Don Horsley. "But, it's really very clear, we could put it on the ballot and we would probably lose."

Supervisor Carole Groom said that even with funding, the county faces problems in trying to add affordable housing because of the strict land-use ordinances in many communities governing high-density housing. "The worst thing in the world would be to pass this, and then set aside 'X' amount of (sales tax money) for affordable housing, and then not have a place to build it," she said.

"We're going to have a lot of work to do," Supervisor Groom said.

Supervisor Dave Pine agreed. He said he thinks the big problem is it's "going to be like pulling teeth to find places to put this housing."

Supervisor Horsley reminded the supervisors that the housing doesn't have to be new, but can be existing housing that is protected so it remains affordable. "It could be buildings that are already existing," he said.

The supervisors will vote on approving a ballot measure at their July 26 meeting.

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10 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 14, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Right, like we don't already pay enough. Time for local gov't to do some belt tightening when it comes to all those employment benefits that most of us only wish we had.

In any case tax the big tech corporations and startups which are causing the housing shortage and massive increases in housing costs.

41 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

Supervisors Don Horsley and Adrienne Tissier and others mislead the public to to get Measure A passed 4 years ago.
Now they are at it again. Get Government out of the housing business.

Web Link

28 people like this
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 14, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Just more of the same approach to budget "problems". Vote no.

22 people like this
Posted by What another tax?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Stop this lunacy. Tell employers with more than 1000 employees in the county to put housing in their plans, this includes governments. If they want to expand they need to figure out how to get people to live in the area or DO NOT expand. No one asked Facebook to add 6400 employees and create the housing mess in Menlo, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Atherton. Vote NO takes are too high now. Government needs to stop taking our money for feel good ideas.

38 people like this
Posted by janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 14, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Measure A was supposed to be used for essential services that the state was not supplying. Instead it got spent on all kinds of things such as paying for 14 hand air dryers in restrooms in the county building, and some truly ugly "art work" so it degenerated into a general slush fund. This is exactly what will happen if the tax is continued and there STILL won't be adequate affordable housing.

35 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 14, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Really, another tax. The government, schools, etc. must think the voters' money grows on tree because they think we can pay for every increase they desire.

Vote NO!

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2016 at 8:04 am

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

$140,000 Measure A Funds for this gentleman.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

1:13:00 in video BOS Meeting July 12, 2016

Web Link

7 people like this
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Vote No. County manager makes in excess of $300,000 ($339,386.40). County Government salaries and benefits are way out of line for equivalent work in the private sector. Do not feed the avaricious porcine County Government.

Right now I buy in Santa Clara County for big ticket items because of the sales tax differential. We can make it work the other way for us. A lower tax rate could result in a large increase in buying volume which could end up in increased tax revenues.

4 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

John L Maltbie
County Manager - Unclassified
Regular pay: $339,386.40
Overtime pay: $0.00
Other pay: $65,900.52
Total pay: $405,286.92
Total benefits: $138,827.80

Total pay & benefits: $544,114.72

2 people like this
Posted by Easier to pass
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2016 at 9:21 pm

I suspect it is easier to get a sales tax increase by voters (than a bond measure paid by higher property taxes). Maybe that could be checked and reported. Most of us pay no attention to the sales tax unless we buy something darn expensive. And even then, it is just accepted. An agency would need to be hated to fail to get a sales tax increase approved.

Like this comment
Posted by Born & raised right here in SMC
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Great, like I need yet another reason to exit the self-imposed affordable multifamily housing industry in Mt. View where TWO rent control measures will be on the ballot. Time to sell everything and simply move out of the area. Do these idiots running our government entities give a rat's a$$ about approving the creation of thousands of new jobs with one hand while not adequately addressing the housing shortage those jobs create with the other?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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