Thursday, June 28, 2007 | I want to thank you for a balanced and well presented article on the proposed Mission Hills and Fort Stockton Trolley Line District nominations that were supposed to be heard by the City of San Diego Historical Resources Board this coming Thursday, June 28. I am hoping you will consider some additional facts. I attended the May 24 Historical Resources Board hearing and noted that of 11 board members, only Don Harrison and Otto Emme expressed concern over the effect of the Mills Act for so many homes. Harrison questioned the City Council’s failure to raise the pay of firefighters, an issue that has nothing to do with his vote on historical matters.
The issue of Mills Act tax revenue loss came up in 2003, when the city of San Diego first faced the financial crisis. Historical Resource Board member David Marshall brought data to show that less than 5 percent of San Diego consists of houses built before 1940. Of the total property tax revenue, only 0.03 percent of the income stream involved Mills Act properties. In 2005, condominium conversions added $99,000,000 in unexpected revenue and it doubled in 2006. I feel this drives the impact on the income stream to substantially less than 0.03 percent. The financial crisis in the city of San Diego and failure to give firefighters a raise has nothing to do with historical preservation and everything to do with the bloated billing rates and accounting procedures set by city departments and authorized by the former city manager.
I feel you should ask what happens when people receive tax breaks? First, most people who apply for the Mills Act have owned their homes for many years and only receive a 20 percent to 50 percent tax break. For example, Louise Torio of Sherman Heights reported to the Land Use and Housing Committee in 2005 that she received a $3,000 tax break and then invested $49,000 of her own money to restore her house. I have been in the historical preservation and archaeology profession for 37-years and consistently see neighborhoods bloom with new roofs, restored landscaping, new paint, and community pride once a house has been landmarked. San Diego benefits from this program with lower crime, increased tourist revenue, and greater infusion of financial reinvestment.
Failure of the city of San Diego, Planning Department management to put the Mission Hills and Fort Stockton Trolley Line District on the June 28 Historical Resources Board agenda is another example of poor judgement and bureaucratic bungling. Better than 95 percent of the residents in the Mission Hills District support the nomination and most of them paid money to hire historians to research and write the supporting documents. The city of San Diego received a free gift of about $400,000 worth of work for free when they accepted the homeowner nominated districts. Don Harrison’s cheap shot is a slap in the face to the citizens of San Diego.