Former Santa Monica mayor campaigns to amend city’s transfer tax

Ballot measure would exclude multifamily properties to encourage housing construction

Pam O’Connor, the former mayor of Santa Monica, filed a proposal with the city on March 28 seeking to exclude multifamily properties from Measure GS, the so-called mansion tax, according to a release last week. 

Measure GS, which came into effect last year, adds a 5 percent transfer tax on residential and commercial sales with a price of $8 million or more. 

This is the first step in a bid to put this proposal up for a vote in the November elections. After the city issues a summary, O’Connor’s team will have to collect signatures. Her representative was not aware of how many signatures would be required for the initiative to proceed.

“We’re still trying to determine that,” Adam Englander, a representative for O’Connor, told TRD.

“Not only will this amendment allow us to meet our state-mandated housing requirements, it will help keep rents lower and prevent displacement,” O’Connor, a planning consultant, said in a statement last week. “Sometimes, initiative measures have unintended consequences that must be fixed.”

She elaborated further that “most of the housing units subject to Measure GS are apartments and renters — not mansions” and called the “mansion tax” name misleading. 

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“Instead of alleviating the housing crisis, Measure GS has actually undercut the production of much-needed multifamily housing in the city and threatens the financial feasibility of such new development projects,” according to the same statement. 

Voters passed Measure GS through a ballot measure in November 2022 — the same month voters in the city of Los Angeles passed Measure ULA, a similar initiative that added a 4 percent transfer tax on all sales over $5 million and a 5.5 percent tax on all sales over $10 million.

If the effort is successful, it would likely encourage developers to take a new look at Santa Monica if they’ve previously shied away from the city due to the new measure.

“The proposed initiative would remove the mansion tax from apartment buildings to stimulate market-rate and affordable housing production so that more people have a place to live and rents can come down,”said Chris Tourtellotte, who runs multifamily developer LaTerra Development, which has been based in Los Angeles for 15 years. “If the measure is approved, investors and developers will immediately look to build more apartments in Santa Monica.” 

O’Connor worked for Santa Monica’s city government for over two decades, including several stints as mayor, according to her LinkedIn page. Now she’s as a planning and policy consultant.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom designated Santa Monica as a “prohousing” city, a move that raised some eyebrows since Santa Monica was among the first cities where developers took advantage of the builder’s remedy provision.