$20,000 could pay someone’s rent for an entire year in many cities, but the California Association of Realtors (CAR) thinks it’s better spent fighting Santa Cruz’s proposed Empty Home Tax. The 8/22 donation to Santa Cruz Together - No on N is likely just the opening salvo as Big Real Estate interests start their campaign to stop the affordable housing initiative.
Santa Cruz is no stranger to big Real Estate money opposing City measures meant to alleviate the cost of housing for the working class. When rent control was on the Santa Cruz ballot in 2018, opposition to the measure raised roughly half-a-million dollars from the National Association of Realtors, California Association of Realtors, the California Apartment Association, and the local Real Estate industry to defeat the citizen’s initiative.
This money isn’t limited to big ticket items either – its anti-democratic purchasing power permeates our local elections and has helped shape the City’s anti-houseless policies. CAR’s candidate-supporting PAC, the California Real Estate PAC, also commonly makes large donations to candidates representing their interests–they recently gave $1000 to Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s campaign for supervisor, $500 to Justin Cumming’s campaign for that seat (Justin Cummings has endorsed Measure N), and various amounts to City Council members like Sonja Brunner, Renee Golder, and Martine Watkins.
This cycle’s $20,000 donation from Los Angeles-based California Association of Realtors more than doubled SCT’s reported donation total to $43,970 this year and boosted SCT’s total out-of-county funds to just over 57%. This sum surpasses the Empty Home Tax’s reported $18,951. However, these totals are likely outdated with the next summary filing deadline for contributions less than $1,000 coming up on September 29th.
There’s nowhere for these totals to go but up.
In the face of an affordable housing crisis that makes Santa Cruz the second-most-expensive rental market in the country, Santa Cruz Together has set their sights on blocking tenant protections, recalling progressive council members, and backing conservative politicians for local office. They act as the gatekeepers of Santa Cruz neighborhoods, developing policies that have slowly pushed out artists, workers, and families – ensuring that their property values increase and only a wealthy few can afford to live here. They’re tearing us apart, not bringing us together.
They, together with Santa Cruz United, claim to be a volunteer-powered, grassroots network of local activists, but their campaign activities tell a completely different story.
From 2018 to 2020, SCT and Big Real Estate flooded elections with over a million dollars to stop rent control, fight tenant rights, attack progressive elected officials, and support conservative, anti-houseless candidates. They claim to represent Santa Cruz, yet their website offers no information on the funding, leadership, or mission of the group. The only readily available public information is buried in campaign finance reports and surface-level reporting from the Sentinel, who has received thousands of dollars in ad buys from the group.
This fall, SCT has set their sights on two campaigns: defeating Measure N and electing Kalantari-Johnson to county supervisor. Measure N, which SCT opposes, is a vacancy tax endorsed by local housing experts; including Housing Santa Cruz County and Affordable Housing Now, and is poised to raise millions of dollars annually for affordable housing. Kalantari-Johnson most recently spearheaded a costly and failed attempt to ban people living in “oversized vehicles” in Santa Cruz, which was struck down by the California Coastal Commission.
Ultimately, money is the only form of power these groups have – it can buy lots of ads, big ugly signs, and big shiny mailers. But a small group of wealthy individuals from out of town cannot organize passionate and determined people to fight for their neighborhoods. We can. It doesn’t have a culture to fight for. We do. It wasn’t here before the election. We were. It won’t be there when the election ends. We will.
Unlike the California Association of Realtors and Santa Cruz Together, we don’t want Santa Cruz to be the second-most-expensive rental market in the country. We want to be part of thriving, diverse communities where our neighbors can access affordable housing and live where they work.
We have a real opportunity here to put people before profit and we have the initiative. By this time in the 2018 fight for rent control, the opposition had already raised several hundred thousand dollars. It does take money to win a campaign, but it doesn’t require a fortune. If we continue to knock on doors and connect with our neighbors, we can build the coalition needed to stem the tide of Real Estate money. Talk to your coworkers, your friends, and your family about the city we could start to reclaim.
A city for living in – not for profit.
For more information on the Empty Home Tax, visit their website and follow @emptyhometax on instagram. Contribution totals are pulled from contribution records provided to the City by campaign committees per FPPC guidelines. Current city campaign committee financial reports are available via their NetFile Portal, (an archive of some older forms can be found in their dropbox).