The issue is the way the city taxes businesses. Way back in the 1990s, the city had two types of tax -- a payroll tax and a gross receipts tax. The system was complicated, but essentially, companies paid a portion (about 1.5 percent) of payroll or gross receipts, whichever was higher. That made a certain amount of sense; since under California law, cities can't tax corporate income (profits), there's no simple way to enact a perfect local tax, but payroll and gross receipts are both rough approximations of the size of an company.
But in the late 1990s, a group of big corporations, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron, Bechtel, the Gap, Levi Strauss, General Motors, Equity Office Properties, Eastman Kodak, Safeway, Charles Schwab, the Hearst Corporation, the Giants, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, the Shorenstein Company, and others filed a lawsuit to overturn the tax system. We called them the "Filthy 52." The gross receipts tax was unfair, they argued -- and in 2001, with only three dissenting votes, the Board of Supervisors settle the suit by repealing that part of the tax structure.
I've had some pretty sharp disagreements with Bevan Dufty, but in this case, he's on the right track: Mayor Lee's idea of launching an ad campaign to discourage contributions to panhandlanders is ugly, dehumanizing, and a civic disgrace.
Homeless people are people. They're not animals at Yosemite ("please don't feed the bears.") They're not some sort of public-relations problem for downtown hotels. They're San Franciscans who for one reason or another have lost the ability to pay rent. That's not a crime and it shouldn't be the end of their humanity.
Editorial note: In 1971, at the height of the Alvin Duskin anti-highrise battle, the Guardian did a special first ever cost benefit study for high rise office development.
We found that highrises cost the city more in services than they produce in revenue. This meant that the commercial high rise boom could be fought on economic grounds, not just aesthietic and environmental grrounds, and the Chamber of Commerce/Big development gang could never adequately refute our findings. In fact, they are now taken for granted. So, as the 8 Washington battle is poised to open the floodgates even further for a forest of market rate residential buildings, it's time for the city to do its own study to determine the economics of high end residential buildings. Does the cost of servicing luxury residential buildings exceed the taxes they pay? We and many others in the neighborhoods are certain that market rate housing doesn't pay for itself. But the facts are needed and so we urge the supervisors to direct the budget analyst or the city economist to do a similar analysis for luxury condos. Below is Executive Editor Tim Redmond's powerful argument against 8 Washington.
By Tim Redmond
In city planning terms, it's a fairly modest project: 134 condos, no buildings more than 12 stories tall, on a 27,000-square-foot site. It's projected to meet the highest environmental building standards and offers new open space and pedestrian walkways. It's near Muni, BART, and ferry lines. And the city will collect millions of dollars in new taxes from it.
But the 8 Washington project, which will come before the Planning Commission March 8, has become a flashpoint in city politics, one of the defining battles of Mayor Ed Lee's administration — and a symbol of how the city's housing policy has failed to keep pace with the needs of the local workforce. Read more »
The urban planning disaster that is 8 Washington goes before the San Francisco City Planning Commission March 8 amid a long list of questions -- including Mayor Lee's position on the project and how it could screw up the America's Cup.Read more »
EDITORIAL You want a quick way to cut a huge chunk out of the city's budget deficit? A way to save essential services without having to put a tax increase before the voters?
Just force the owners of large commercial properties to pay their property taxes.
It's an open secret in California that the biggest properties are bought and sold under a loophole in the Proposition 13 that prevents city's from reassessing them. It's a fairly easy scam, one that almost never happens with lower-priced residential property: Instead of selling, say, a large commercial office building, the owners simply incorporate the building as a limited liability corporation and then sell shares in the LLC. That doesn't count as a property transfer under Proposition 13, so the building is never reassessed. Read more »
EDITORIAL There's so much on the to-do list for San Francisco in 2012 that it's hard to know where to start. This is a city in serious trouble, with unstable finances, a severe housing crisis, increased poverty and extreme wealth, a shrinking middle class, crumbling and unreliable infrastructure, a transportation system that's a mess, no coherent energy policy — and a history of political stalemate from mayors who have refused to work with progressives on the Board of Supervisors.
Now that Ed Lee has won a four-year term, he and the supervisors need to start taking on some of the major issues — and if the mayor wants to be successful, he needs to realize that he can't be another Gavin Newsom, or Willie Brown, mayors who were an obstacle to real reform.
Here are just a few of the things the mayor and the board should put on the agenda for 2012: Read more »
Well, I am sad to report that my neighborhood supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, has once again refused to answer my Impertinent Questions and to say if he voted for Ed Lee for mayor. Perhaps I will tell you, he says, perhaps not and he chose to perhaps not. He has thus refused to shed light on his role in one of the most fateful nominations in San Francisco history.
Here's the latest version of the almost famous Que Syrah correspondence between Elsbernd and me on these critical Impertinent Questions. (As attentive readers of this blog know, I have been trying for months to get Elsbernd to meet me to talk about these questions at Que Syrah, a nifty little wine bar in the West Portal area of Elsbernd's district. I am still trying.) Read more »