This country was founded on the belief that ownership of property is an essential element of a free society. The ability to own land builds pride in one's community and has for much of our past established a foundation for the future.
But what happens when lawmakers looking for quick fixes and easy solutions to complex problems introduce legislation that threatens your ability to prove ownership to your home?
That is exactly what has happened with SB391 (DeSaulnier).
SB391 is a bill that imposes new taxes to replace funding for affordable-housing programs that had been paid for through redevelopment financing and voter-approved bonds.
In their haste to balance the budget, the Legislature and governor seized money from local communities and, by doing so, removed a major source of funding for low/moderate income housing.
To replace some of those dollars, this bill would impose a $75 tax on many documents to be recorded, with that new money going to the state.
Currently, the base fee to record documents ranges from $6 to $10, depending on where you live in the state. But SB391 would increase that fee to between $81 and $85 dollars, amounting to an increase of up to 1,250 percent.
Proponents of the bill argue that there is a need for affordable housing in the state of California, something that recorders do not dispute. However, the Legislature should not ignore the impact that SB391 would have on the public land record system or the people who use it.
When you purchase a home in California, you will most likely record a copy of the transaction in the county recorder's office. Recording these documents is not a legal requirement; it is completely voluntary. However, doing so establishes a permanent record of the transaction, especially if the original documents are lost or stolen.
Many transactions, such as a refinance, can require up to five different recorded documents, meaning an additional $375 or more could be collected from a single transaction. This fee is high enough that many users of the land record system might choose not to record their documents.
And who would be the people paying this new tax? Not the person buying a multimillion dollar home, because in the hopes of silencing opponents, they are exempt, at least for now.
The primary people who will be paying this tax would be the families who refinance or renegotiate their loans, the widow filing the affidavit of her husband's death and the struggling homeowner trying to get a lien released from their property.
Most of us understand the dangers of suppressing free speech and freedom of the press. But we must not forget that undermining the ability to establish ownership of our homes is just as disturbing.
Congress and state legislatures designed our system of recording land records to protect against secret conveyances and to prevent power over private property by the government.
Recognizing how SB391 would deter homeowners from recording documents and thereby weakening the entire public land records system is vital to understanding county recorders' opposition to the bill.
We also recognize that these fees will, like most taxes, increase and expand over time, leading to even more chances for our current system to collapse.
Because of the huge and unjust impact that SB391 would have on the public land records system and the citizens who voluntarily support it, I urge the California Legislature to find another way to fund their policy objectives.
Joe Canciamilla is the clerk-recorder for Contra Costa County.