Mountain View Voice

News - December 16, 2011

Survey seeks public opinion on new affordable housing tax

Council: tax measure for community center, police building a non-starter

by Daniel DeBolt

Police officers might be getting sick from the mold in the police station, and the city's 1960s community center may be falling apart, but council members said Tuesday that November 2012 is the wrong election to ask voters for a tax measure to fund the rebuilding of those facilities.

City Council members said in a study session that it wasn't worth $15,000 to gauge public support for such a tax measure, which could pay for a new police and fire administration building and a long-sought revamp of the community center at Rengstorff Park.

Instead, the survey will stick to its original purpose, gauging support for a city-wide tax measure to pay for affordable housing projects, such as the 51-unit development for low-income families being built at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street downtown.

The November 2012 ballot will be "jam-packed," said council member Mike Kasperzak. The election will have numerous measures, including a local school district bond, a presidential election and Mountain View City Council election. "It is going to be completely the wrong time."

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga and Mayor Jac Siegel supported the broader "split survey" of voter interests, which would have raised the survey's cost from $15,000 to $30,000.

"When people are getting sick because of mold in the building, I have a real problem with that," said Abe-Koga.

The survey for affordable housing funds was originally proposed after the contentious Nov. 1 meeting in which the council decided not to charge a new affordable housing impact fee on rental housing developers. A court decision in Palmer vs. Los Angeles had made the city's previous version of the fee illegal, so a "nexus study" was done to make the fee, albeit smaller, legal again.

But council members weren't ready to reinstitute such a fee, which opponents say increases rents and lowers the value of developable property. Some called for a tax measure to spread the costs of affordable housing throughout the city, charging property owners $5 a month, but some council members don't believe the city can get the two-thirds support it will need.

"This crisis is manufactured because we didn't move forward with the impact fee," said council member Ronit Bryant, who said early in the discussion that she had nothing else to say.

Council member Tom Means, who opposes the city's affordable housing practices, including other housing fees on ownership housing development and commercial development, said that the survey should ask how residents feel about those fees.

City Manager Dan Rich suggested polling residents for a general purpose tax increase, which would only require a simple majority to pass, and could fund the projects council members have said are a priority. That includes a new community center, police station, a new park in the Whsiman area and a city-run shuttle service, said Mayor Siegel. "Campbell did it under Mr. Rich's leadership a couple of years ago," Abe-Koga said.

Rich is now tasked with organizing a team to create the survey for council approval. The phone survey would likely be conducted by Godbe Research, which claims to have seen seven out of its last seven ballot measures pass after doing surveys and recommending them as good bets. The cost of a placing a measure on the ballot can be as much as $100,000.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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