Santa Cruz’s Measure N empty home tax appears poised for defeat

Yard signs urging yes and no votes on Santa Cruz's Measure N

In early election results, Santa Cruz County Clerk Tricia Webber showed “no” on the ballot measure receiving 62% of the votes, while the “yes” side had received only 38%.

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Measure N, the empty home tax, seemed headed for defeat late Tuesday night in the city of Santa Cruz, with no votes taking a double-digit lead over yes votes.

As of Wednesday, 62% of voters had said no to the tax, while 38% said yes.

Skyrocketing cost of living has dominated the local political landscape during this election cycle. Activists and elected officials alike have found themselves desperately looking for answers to the affordability crisis.

An empty home tax was one idea, but many voters — even those sympathetic to the idea — struggled to embrace the measure as it was written.

Lynn Renshaw, a lead activist against the measure, said she was cautiously optimistic with the early results, but warned that celebrations were premature. “It’s encouraging,” Renshaw said. “We’re glad that people recognize that they should not pass badly written laws.”

Despite trailing in the race, Kayla Kumar, a spokesperson for Yes on N, said she was not ready to give up.

“A lot of times, you get the first reaction and then, in my experience, more progressive votes come in later,” Kumar said. “We’ll be keeping an eye on the results and hope to inch a little bit closer to a win.”

Kumar said she was too tired to devise a plan in the event that the results hold, but said the people behind the Measure N campaign were hungry for solutions.

“The volunteers, the donors, the endorsers, the voters, they want to see change on this housing crisis,” Kumar said. “We’ll keep fighting for some solace and some comfort and some solution on this crisis, one way or the other, whether it’s an empty home tax or something else that fits Santa Cruz. I don’t see us stopping anytime soon, but you know, you’ve got to trust the voters and listen to the voters and that’s what we’ll certainly do.”

Proponents and opponents of the measure have remained starkly divided on the matter, and Lookout’s Oct. 17 forum illuminated that fact, with the two sides disagreeing on nearly everything.

The measure requires property owners to file an annual report asserting that their property is occupied for the required amount of time. The tax would apply to property owners with residences occupied for fewer than 120 nonconsecutive days in a calendar year. The rate would vary based on the type of residence, but would be as much as $6,000 annually. City staff estimates that the tax would raise between $2.5 million and $4.1 million annually for a new affordable housing fund.

The measure’s proponents and support group, Yes on Measure N, are confident that the relatively modest amount that the tax is projected to raise can be used to apply for matching grants from other levels of government, and that something is better than nothing. Further, they say the self-reporting function would be simple and noninvasive.

Santa Cruz Together, the measure’s opponents, say that the measure is structurally flawed, and view the administration as onerous and punitive. The group also says that the projected revenue is a generous estimate, and the measure will fail to raise enough money to provide a substantial amount of affordable housing.

— Christopher Neely and Wallace Baine contributed to this report.


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