Letter to the Editors – Prop 13 Encourages Malls

Mendocino County

August 5, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California

To the Editor:

Mr. Jon Fenwick’s lengthy letter (7/30/2009) in which he attacks Dave Smith, Tom Anderson, Judy Pruden and me for hypocrisy and “preachy letters” prodded me to do some research. I first Googled “’Jon Fenwick’ Ukiah California”, turning up only Mr. Fenwick’s letter. Then I called information to ask for his telephone number, and found that there was no listing for a ‘Jon Fenwick’ in Ukiah. I find it strange that Mr. Fenwick’s foray into letter writing to the local paper began with a very long preachy letter. If I talked to him, I figured, maybe there could be some common ground. Mr. Fenwick, please take note.

With respect to the proposed projects at the Redwood Business Park by the airport, Mr. Fenwick may not be aware that although the City of Ukiah did not prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it purchased the land for the projects, those projects are not exempt from CEQA. The act of purchasing, because it does not involve any change in land use, does not warrant an EIR. Because the City is subject to CEQA, there will be additional environmental analysis before approval (or denial) of any permits that would allow development to take place. Should Measure A pass, however, Developers Diversified Realty (DDR), would-be developers of the Masonite site, would be exempt from CEQA. That’s a major distinction that Mr. Fenwick should consider.

On at least one point Mr. Fenwick and I are in agreement. Indeed, California is a mess. And the root cause of the mess is Proposition 13. In 1978, voters thought they were capping real property taxes to allow the elderly to remain in their homes. Property taxes would increase only at the time of sale, or so the voters thought. Corporations, however, soon found ways to transfer property without a resultant increase in property taxes. County and state coffers continue to lose out because of this loophole and you would think there would be an effort to close it, and there is, but only a little. Such is the power of corporations. I surmise that should Measure A pass, DDR, whose finances are in a shambles, would try to unload the site and would structure the deal so that the new “owner” could evade increased property taxes. Once again, county and state coffers would not be filled and we, the residents, would not benefit.

Post Prop 13, sales taxes have replaced property taxes as an apparently desirable source of revenue. And shopping malls, as big generators of sales tax revenue, appear desirable. While it is true that a new shopping mall would generate sales tax revenue, it is also true that this would not be additional revenue. Furthermore, sales tax revenue is less than ideal as a source of revenue because 35 cents of every sales tax dollar goes to the federal government. Property taxes, pre Prop 13, stayed in the county.

A mall on the Masonite site would decrease sales tax revenue from existing stores. In a telephone conversation, long-time resident Laura Fogg recounted the history of shopping malls in the Ukiah Valley, starting with the Yokayo Shopping Center where the Department of Social Services now stands behind the parking lot at the corner of Gobbi and State Streets. And where the Grace Hudson School now stands, the old Deep Valley Shopping Center had once stood its ground and included a large grocery store and 8 or 10 little stores. The energy left both those sites in the mid-seventies when Orchard Plaza was built and where today only Long’s among the original stores remains. Very soon after that, the Pear Tree Shopping Center took center stage. Next, Crossroads appeared on North State Street. Anchored by Raley’s, Crossroads constantly changes tenants in its other stores. All were touted as boons, but we really don’t know if anyone other than the developers realized net income as a result.

The Redwood Business Park near the airport was originally the Airport Industrial Park but was quickly rezoned to commercial.  The City of Ukiah unwisely allowed Wal-Mart to anchor the “park”, sucking the life blood out of the downtown area.  Ten years later, the downtown remains fragile.  The point of this recitation is that new malls don’t generate new revenue.  They merely move the revenue around for a period of time as people go to the newest mall.

We wouldn’t be desperate for stimulus money and its accompanying red tape, of which Mr. Fenwick complains, if there had not been a real estate bubble fed by shortsighted corporate greed and Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. You would think that a realty corporation such as DDR would have figured out that a real estate bubble was ill-fated and not in its long-term interest. Alas, no. Now, DDR is in trouble and asking for bailout money from the Federal Reserve. Does it bother Mr. Fenwick that DDR might get bailed out, courtesy of taxpayer money? If he hasn’t been brainwashed by corporate propaganda he should be bothered.

Long term, Californians need to repeal Prop 13. New protections for homeowners can be part of the solution, but these protections should be for homeowners only, not corporations. Only then will property tax revenue stay in the county, funding our schools and other services. Sales tax revenue derived from big box retail will lose its allure, illusory though it is. For now, we can vote a resounding NO on Measure A, the misbegotten initiative that would plunk a monster mall on the Masonite site.


Good job Janie. Repeal Prop 13 and Go Co-op.

Way to go, Janie. Very thoughtful. How many communities have paved paradise at towns’ edges with shopping malls just for a fast buck, loosing whatever had been there originally, industry, agriculture, open space?