BERKELEY -- The notion of taking from the rich to give to the poor may be popular here, but a ballot initiative being circulated by the Robin Hood Committee for a Windfall Profits Tax that would hike levies on landlords to fund affordable housing will likely face stiff opposition from rental property owners.
This tax is one of nine initiatives residents hope to place on the November ballot. The City Council is considering three others.
The Robin Hood Committee must collect 2,600 valid signatures by about May 8 to place the measure on the ballot.
If successful, the initiative would raise landlords' business license taxes from about $11 to $30 per $1,000 of receipts. Single-family rentals, duplexes, owner-occupied properties with fewer than 10 units and rent controlled properties where initial rents were set before 1999 are exempt. The tax doesn't kick in until rentals have been certified for occupancy for 20 years.
A companion initiative circulated by the same committee, directs at least $3 million of the funds raised by the Windfall Profits Tax initiative into a city fund for affordable housing. The committee expects the new tax to raise $4.5 million annually. If the companion initiative fails and the tax measure passes, the revenue goes into the general fund.
Each of these initiatives requires a 50 percent plus one vote. (A two-thirds vote would be required if the tax measure had specified where funds would go.)
Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy, called the proposed tax "anti-business."
He argued that it unfairly targets smaller local landlords, many owning rent-controlled properties, rather than "corporate" out-of-town owners, many of whose properties won't be immediately taxed under the initiative because they were built during the last 20 years. When these properties are taxed, corporate landlords will pass the expense on to tenants, something landlords with rent controlled properties cannot do, he said.
Stephen Barton, former city housing director and Robin Hood Committee member, argues that the city's landlords charge high rents and gain free money simply by their Berkeley location.
The public makes Berkeley property valuable "by investing in the university, parks, transit, and through all their economic, cultural and social activities," Barton told the City Council at an April 1 meeting.
"This value that is created by the public is taken for private value from the investors," he said. "Nothing could be more appropriate than to tax this unearned income and reinvest it in affordable housing and other services for low income renters."
Lakireddy said there is no immediate plan to counter the initiative. "Our biggest hope is that they don't get the signatures," he said.
Another initiative would create an independent redistricting commission. Unlike the tax initiative, it would be a charter amendment and require about 11,600 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Its author, Councilman Jesse Arreguin plans to begin collecting signatures the week of April 21, but said he'd prefer the council vote directly to place the initiative on the ballot.
"The redistricting process is broken," Arreguin said. "When you entrust politicians to draw up their own electoral boundaries this creates inherent conflicts of interest."
The initiative's complex process for selecting commissioners is intended to create an independent body.
Commissioners could not run for council or mayor within 10 years after appointment to the commission and could not have served as mayor or council member during the 10 previous years; they could not work for or contract with the city. Family members of the mayor and council could not participate.
The city clerk would screen the applicant pool for expertise in redistricting and diversity in gender, race and student status.
A pool of 60 applicants would be separated into the eight council districts, plus one UC Berkeley student pool, and the city clerk would randomly select one commissioner from each and eight additional commissioners from the 51 remaining applicants.
Councilman Laurie Capitelli called the process "over-complicated."
"This rule that no one can participate who has in any way participated in any election in ten years just seems overly cumbersome," he said, adding that he wished Arreguin had consulted with him on the issue.
However, he said he has "no disagreement in establishing some kind of independent (redistricting) body."