Whenever I compare notes with supervisors in other counties we commiserate on the constant barrage of new disasters to contend with. Climate change has caused wildfires to hit new records — in size and destruction, which our governor said were the likes of which we’ve never seen. Before the fires sparked across the state, though, we were already in what seemed to be the fight of a lifetime as COVID-19 was and still is wreaking havoc on communities — affecting both the health of our residents and the viability of our local economies.
Santa Barbara has survived its share of wildfires, including the monster Thomas Fire in 2017, and while we have not been faced with a wildfire this year, we have not been immune to the financial deficits caused by the pandemic. Local governments up and down California are in search of opportunities for additional funding to combat future fires and to help our communities get back on their feet as we wade through the financial struggles of COVID-19.
That is why elected officials, including Governor Newsom, State Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer Fiona Ma, and local leaders from nearly every California community, including in Santa Barbara, are in support of Proposition 19.
Proposition 19 will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sustainable, long-term funding for schools and local governments, and it will also create a historic, dedicated fire fund that cannot be raided — bringing nearly $100 million at the end of the first year and an astounding $6.1 billion by the end of the twelfth year. This will help many communities along the Central Coast by providing firefighters with resources that are desperately needed and will save countless homes and lives.
More than that, Prop. 19 will also produce hundreds of millions of dollars for local governments and school districts. This is essential funding that will ensure Santa Barbara’s government can do their jobs, helping residents with services including health care, housing, and homeless programs and help with the Santa Barbara’s overall economic sustainability.
It’s important to note that the additional funding for both wildfire response and local governments is generated not by implementing a new tax on Californians, but by closing an unintended loophole that has cost local governments, schools, and California taxpayers billions of dollars over the years and are already seen as problematic by the California Legislature.
Prop. 19 also offers housing relief to seniors, people with disabilities, and ensures that victims of wildfires are able to afford a home after such a traumatic event uproots their lives. Proposition 19 protects these vulnerable communities by limiting their property taxes when moving to a new home that better suits their particular needs — no matter the home’s location. For seniors or those with disabilities who currently live in a home they can no longer move around in — Proposition 19 will provide a lifeline to them.
I must admit that I, like some critics of the measure, at first worried that allowing seniors portability could hurt local governments’ fiscal ability to respond to disasters, but I did the research and it seems clear to me that the revenue produced by closing the loophole more than makes up for it.
All California counties and cities are experiencing budget shortfalls, and our fire districts are in desperate need of resources. Now is the time to vote for this initiative to help lift our cities out of this financial crisis and into a more viable future.
Santa Barbara has much to gain from Proposition 19. While one initiative cannot solve all of our state’s ailments, Proposition 19 is a crucial step toward providing critical revenue for our local governments, school districts, and fire districts. I urge you to support Proposition 19 when you fill out your ballot.
Das Williams is the Santa Barbara County supervisor for the 1st District.