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I feel like David facing Goliath in single combat, or Don Quixote “tilting at windmills.” But someone has to slay the dragon. In this case, the dragon is San Diego Unified School District’s Proposition S, a proposed $2.1 billion second mortgage on all our homes. It’s just flat-out wrong.
I’m a longtime Realtor. I write the purchase estimates for first-time homebuyers. I know firsthand whose shoulders this $2.1 billion second mortgage will befall. The first mortgage of $1.5 billion, 1998’s Prop MM, is still there. It will not be fully paid-off for decades.
Can you imagine being able to take out a first and then a second mortgage on your neighbors’ house? And sending them the bill? Well, that’s exactly what the school district has done and is trying to do again. Will they try for a third, a fourth, or fifth, just because they can? You bet they will. The school board is heavily influenced by the business interests, who get to spend this borrowed money.
But it gets worse. The bulk of the mortgage bill will be sent to first-time homebuyers, those who can least afford it. It is particularly cruel to the lowest rung, the condo owners. Because of how Prop 13 works, the more recently you purchased your home, the more you pay. Before Prop 13, all properties were treated equally. All properties were revalued each year at current market value. A single rate of tax applied to all.
Because this was driving older people from their homes, Prop 13 capped the rate of increase to 2 percent per year. It worked. Now, people who own their homes for a long time pay very little property in taxes. The trouble is that large corporations are hiding behind the skirts of these older people. The corporate owners of large commercial properties get exactly the same tax benefits as the 90-year-old grandma still living in the home her dear long-departed husband built in La Jolla with his own hands in the 1940s.
A fairer way has to be found to fund our schools. Just as we had to protect our older people in 1978, we now have to protect the young. Their challenges are severe enough already. The entire cost of schools cannot be put on the backs of one section of the population. Commercial property owners and redevelopment agencies need to pay their fair share. As it is right now, the hard-pressed residential condominium owners pay more property taxes than all the commercial property owners put together.
I have no problem with grandma living out her golden years in La Jolla undisturbed by the needs of our schools. I have a huge problem every time I write a purchase estimate for a first-time homebuyer couple, and see the shocked expressions on their faces as I confirm that their monthly property taxes on a median-priced home or condo will exceed their current combined car payments.
The total valuation of all commercial properties in the county is $51.3 billion, while the total valuation of all residential condominiums in the county is $52.5 billion. Visit www.fairshareforschools.com for a full explanation of the measure, including assessment data.
The simplest explanation is that condominiums change ownership more often than commercial properties, an unforeseen consequence of Prop 13. It created a huge windfall for commercial property owners that nobody wants to talk about. The dirty little secret of this city is that its commercial properties as a whole are grossly under-assessed, and therefore under-taxed. That is unfair.
Until this fundamental inequity is fixed, the school district should not force a second mortgage on the homes and condos of our already cash-strapped sons and daughters. It is profoundly wrong.
So, am I “tilting at windmills?” Is San Diego Unified just too strong as a school district? Is Prop S grossly unfair? If you agree that it is, you can go to the “NO on Proposition S” Web site and charge a few dollars to your credit card to help defeat this massive transfer of wealth from first-time homebuyers to big businesses. We must alert the unwary younger people who are too busy trying to make a living to have time for “politics.” Well, this is more than just politics — these are their very futures.