The group challenging the City Council’s recent vote to raise the affordable housing fee calls it a “jobs tax” but says it supports a host of other tax increases that would accomplish the same goal: paying for subsidized housing.
At least, a majority of the 58 group members supports those tax increases.
But finding out which members support which tax increases is tough since the group never took a formal vote on each item.
In fact, many Jobs Coalition members say the policy alternatives haven’t gone through their formal endorsement processes since so far none has been seriously proposed by city leaders.
The Jobs Coalition is a pretty big group at this point, and includes larger organizations that are often involved in city policy, like the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and smaller ones that aren’t, like the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce and Sustainability Matters. We’re approaching the larger coalition members to see where they fall on six tax or fee increases. Earlier, we took a closer look  at what’s in each proposal in the first place.
The Housing Commission, which runs the city’s subsidized housing programs, for its part has consistently said the fee increase was the only proposal that was realistic.
Colin Parent, the Housing Commission
Parent threw cold water on talk of opponents supporting tax increase-alternatives. It’s easy to say you support something that you know is never actually going to happen, he said.
“There needs to be a degree of feasibility for something to be called an alternative,” he said. “A lot of these recommendations are broadly conceptualized ideas that take a lot more effort in order to accomplish, rather than just asking the City Council to do them. And I don’t know that you can say they’ve made any effort on them. My view of policy making is to identify things that can get done and have starts and finishes, and broader wish list documents don’t meet that standard for me.”
In any case, here’s where some of the coalition’s members said their group falls on subsidizing housing through tax increases.
Matt Adams, the Building Industry Association of San Diego County
Adams’ organization has already announced its support for an infrastructure bond with affordable housing funding attached, along with a property tax, and he said his group supports every other tax increase proposed as well.
VOSD: So you support increasing the transient occupancy tax (TOT), and using the revenue to fund subsidized housing?
Adams: It’s not an increase. It is transferring a portion of TOT to affordable housing programs. That was one of the original sources for affordable housing …
VOSD: Actually, there are two items. One is reallocating current TOT revenue. The other is actually increasing the TOT rates.
Adams: Well, is that on our list? Well, then there you go. Broad-based funding. Why not?
VOSD: Implementing a real estate transfer tax …
Adams: We have long supported establishing a real estate transfer tax, and we also support, there was a bill last year (SB 391 ), a $75 document transfer fee, that we’re actually the co-authors of that bill in Sacramento.
VOSD: And repealing the People’s Ordinance so the city can charge a fee for trash collection?
Adams: Any kind of broad-based funding source on that list is something we’re supportive of …
VOSD: How about a one-time tax on business net worth?
Adams: Anything on that list, we’re prepared to support. We are, and will always be, part of the solution. We quarrel with being the only part of the solution.
Theresa Andrews, CONNECT
CONNECT, which advocates for innovation-based industries in San Diego, didn’t join the coalition until after it had already helped draft the list of alternative funding streams, said Andrews, its director of public policy.
“Our position is that affordable housing is everyone’s issue, not just the business community, and so a broad-based solution is what should be looked at. The bulk of companies we represent don’t create low-income jobs, so it almost feels like a punishment for trying to grow companies that want to build jobs that don’t have a need for affordable housing.”
She said none of the tax increase proposals has gone through the group’s policy committee, so she couldn’t say whether the group would support them.
Felipe Monroig, San Diego County Taxpayers Association
Monroig, president and CEO of the Taxpayers Association, has previously said he’d like to keep affordable housing separate from a large infrastructure bond that would require a property tax increase, but also declined to comment on policies that hadn’t been formally approved by the group’s policy committee.
“We probably would take it through committee at the point that the city considered them as viable a policy. The lack of (the city) looking at the alternatives meant (it wasn’t) worth going through that review process. They clearly haven’t been (considering these alternatives), so there’s no reason for us to go through that process.”
Mark Cafferty, San Diego Regional Economic Development Council
Cafferty said his group also hadn’t taken formal positions in favor of any of the proposals, but he was willing to speculate on what his group’s members might think about each item.
On a large infrastructure bond with a property tax increase:
“Yes, absolutely. I think it’s a good idea and something regionally we need to do…. When you get back to the idea of the linkage fee as something tacked onto the business community as opposed to broadly spreading something across the region in a thoughtful manner, in a way that a lot of folks could come to the table and say ‘OK, it’s a tax increase or it’s a fee increase, but at least we’re all in it together, and it’ll net good things for region,’ that’s where a lot of people truly believe—and I don’t think it’s just bullshit— they would’ve been at the table for that discussion, and now the lines have been drawn in the sand and some of the folks you could have had at the table might not be there, but they could ultimately get back there. There was a very strong ‘we’ve got the votes’ message being delivered.”
He said he couldn’t guess where his group would land on a transient occupancy tax increase, taxes for real estate transfers or document recording, or a repeal of the People’s Ordinance, because those aren’t issues he’s ever discussed with his membership.
He did say it was unlikely the EDC would support a one-time tax on businesses:
“I would likely guess that that’s something our members would want us to push back against, and possibly fight pretty hard against. I don’t know, because I’ve never had that discussion with them.”
Craig Benedetto, Jobs Coalition lobbyist and spokesman
What are the chances the Jobs Coalition will stay together after June to actually lead a conversation on any one of these funding proposals?
“It’s a good question. The thing about campaigns when you get into this position, where you’re forced to raise and spend money to fight something when you had basically the other side turn their backs on you … it makes it kinda hard to want to come back to the table and figure things out. What they’ve told us every step of the way before they decided to increase the linkage fee is that they wanted us to pay for the campaign (for any alternative). I think that’s an unfair expectation, but it is what it is. To now come back to us if we’re successful, to come back and then say, ‘You didn’t like that, you need to come up with the alternative, and you need to fund the campaign for it,’ I think the dynamic needs to change. That’s a long way of saying, ‘I don’t know.'”
Benedetto agreed the infrastructure bond with a property tax increase is likeliest of the listed alternatives, but do any others have a realistic future of their own?
“I’d say yes, with a caveat. TOT is something that keeps getting left off the table. The way they postured it on the list was calling it a TOT increase. We said you could do an increase, but let’s look at it this way, the city collects I think last year it was $124 million, estimated. When they constantly use the hospitality industry and the hotel community specifically as one of the low-wage industries that needs help with affordability … put your money where your mouth is: Reallocate some of it, 20 percent, say.”
Reallocating TOT funds was one of the items on the list Parent derided as a vague hypothetical.
“It basically says ‘reallocate money from the general fund for affordable housing.’ That’s an option, I guess but it’s not creating new affordable housing dollars. I guess we could reallocate 100 percent of the general fund to affordable housing, but someone has to want to do that.”
The broad takeaway here is that most of these proposals didn’t make it much further within the individual organizations in the Jobs Coalition than they did with the City Council.
There’s a Catch-22 at work: Business groups largely haven’t taken formal stances on each policy because each policy never looked like it was gaining steam with the city and affordable housing advocates; the city and affordable housing advocates, meanwhile, never seriously pursued many of these policies because they were deemed unachievable.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified SB 391.