SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday paved the way for voters in November to decide on two measures that could affect their pocketbooks even as they fund housing projects and other social services.
The supervisors approved both measures unanimously.
Appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot will be the affordable housing bond measure, a $140 million bond that would fund affordable housing projects throughout the county. The measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
The supervisors also approved a half-cent sales tax for the unincorporated areas of the county created to pay for an estimated $6.1 million in “critical unmet needs,” such as homeless and mental health services and capital improvement projects in seven parks and recreation centers.
The measures could also help the county temper looming unfunded pension costs that are facing jurisdictions throughout the U.S.
If the bond measure is approved, homeowners will pay an additional $16.77 per $100,000 of assessed value on their property tax bills.
The issue began in April when the group Affordable Housing Santa Cruz County floated what was then a $250 million bond to fund affordable housing projects and help reduce the county’s homeless population.
Organizers said the lesser amount was an attempt to woo homeowners wary of adding to their already sizable property tax bills.
The measure was created to help hopeful homebuyers in Santa Cruz County, who face median prices of more than $900,000 for houses, and $570,000 for condominiums.
Dozens of people lined up to address the board, many saying that the bond will create affordable housing, temper the homeless problem and help workers afford homes and thereby stay in the community.
Public health nurse Matt Nathanson, who treats many homeless people as part of his job, called the issue “critical.” He said it would benefit both homeless people, and the county’s working-class people.
“We struggle with you at the bargaining table for a livable wage, then it all gets wiped out in paying for housing,” Nathanson said.
Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust CEO Caitlin Brune called the measure a “model approach” to addressing the housing gap between North and South County.
“There is a desperate housing crisis facing our farmworker population,” Brune said.
Alina Harway, communications director for the nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, said the concern over affordable housing should be a countywide issue.
“These concerns aren’t someone else’s problem,” she said. “When we’re concerned about our community, it’s the responsibility of the community to come together and find solutions.”
About half the speakers opposed the measure, cautioning that the bond would further burden homeowners already facing high property taxes.
“I do not think you can make housing more affordable by making it more expensive,” said Mando Morlos of Watsonville.
Instead, Morlos said the county should improve its regulations, allowing property owners to build more housing units on one property, and create multiple accessory dwelling units.
Santa Cruz County resident Carmen Burnell said she was concerned about how the bond will impact low-income seniors. Some, she said, have as many as 10 bonds tacked onto their property tax bill.
“We just keep on adding more and more,” she said. “At what point is it enough?”
In throwing his weight behind the issue, Supervisor Bruce McPherson said that voters should have their voices heard at the ballot box.
McPherson added that he wants to see a strong framework for approval of the housing projects, if the measure is approved.
Supervisor Zach Friend said the measure is a “long-term investment” in the community that will benefit the entire community.
“The question before the board is and before the community at large is when will we fundamentally turn the page on the impacts of affordability, so that the next generation does not face what this current generation faces,” Friend said.
Half-cent sales tax also makes November ballot
According to the Santa Cruz County Administrative Office, the half-cent sales tax in the unincorporated parts of the county would help pay for several “critical unmet needs” that exist despite “good fiscal stewardship” by the county over the past decade.
The tax would raise an estimated $5.7 million over its 12-year life.
If approved by a simple majority vote, shoppers in the unincorporated areas of the county will pay a 9 percent sales tax. By contrast, sales taxes in Watsonville and Santa Cruz are 9.25 percent.
The money would fund a program placing mental health workers with Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies. Officials say this so-called “focused deterrence initiative” would help law enforcement officials connect with hard-to-reach mentally ill homeless people. It would also save the county money in the long term by keeping these people out of the criminal justice system, county officials say.
The tax money would also be used to create two round-the-clock service centers for homeless people, one in Santa Cruz and one in Watsonville. These would take the place of winter shelters that close in warmer months.
In addition, the revenue would fund as many as three park maintenance and recreation staff, and pay for improvements at Chanticleer Park, Simpkins Family Swim Center, Heart of Soquel Park, The Farm Park, Felton Nature Park, Aptos Village Park and several South County parks.
“I’m excited about this possibility, and I’m excited about bringing forward an initiative that benefits not only the community now, but will benefit the community for generations to come,” Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said.