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City to Place Vacancy Tax on Ballot

The San Marino City Council voted last week to put on the Nov. 8 ballot a proposed vacancy tax that — if passed — will generate approximately $2.8 million to help offset expenses associated with the upkeep of empty properties.

The tax will require a two-thirds majority vote to pass and will charge those who have not lived on their properties for 120 days at a rate of $10,000 per parcel. The measure passed by a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Susan Jakubowski casting the only dissenting opinion.

Jakubowski told the Tribune her “no” vote was the result of the council raising the tax to $10,000 from its original level of $6,000, where it was when the council originally studied the idea.

“This is something I think came up several years ago,” said Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey. “During COVID, it has become more apparent that there are many negative impacts surrounding our drop-in population. Our police and fire departments are extremely taxed and they are the ones who have to deal with empty homes.”

City Attorney Joseph Montes said that the $6,000 figure has been unofficially approved by the California Supreme Court during previous cases.

“I think the time is upon us,” said Shepherd Romey.

Vice Mayor Steve Talt referenced a crime ring that emanated a couple years back from an abandoned house in the Mission District as another factor encouraging him to put the matter before voters.

“It is my opinion that this is the opportunity to put it on the ballot,” Talt said.

The tax will not be imposed if the homeowner is on military deployment, living in a long-term care facility or if there is active, permitted construction on the property. If a homeowner passes away, decedents will have one year before a tax is imposed.

Montes said the $2.8 million figure is based on an assumed 10% vacancy rate and the tax will sunset 10 years after original approval. Though the number has never been confirmed, the city believes that the vacancy rate is near 10%. The $2.8 million figure was based on a tax of $6,000 per parcel.

Shepherd Romey, who along with Talt served as a liaison on the project, said the city will be “flexible” and provide several notices to homeowners regarding their properties.

The city council said it has raised the subject of the parcel tax with members of the San Marino School Board, but there has been no official action on the matter between the two bodies.

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