Editorial: Prop. 13 would ease retrofit costs

Measure would save property owners from taking a hit on property tax bills after paying for seismic upgrades to older buildings

March 31, 2010 

As important as seismic retrofits are to public safety — especially in quake-prone areas like San Luis Obispo County — the state of California has not jumped in to offer financial incentives to owners of older buildings prone to collapse in an earthquake.

Local cities have provided some assistance, such as small grants and technical assistance. For the most part, though, property owners have shouldered the heavy financial burden of retrofitting.

Proposition 13, a statewide measure on the June ballot, would provide some relief by assuring property owners that — for as long as they own the buildings — retrofits would not trigger higher tax assessments.

Here’s why we like the measure: It would prevent building owners from being dinged twice — once when they pay for the upgrades and again on their property tax bills.

It also would clear up a discrepancy in current state law, which offers an unlimited tax exemption to owners of some types of buildings that are seismically retrofitted, but places a 15-year cap on the exemption for unreinforced masonry buildings.

San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro noticed that odd quirk in the law when he was dealing with reassessments following the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. He brought it to the attention of other state officials; Proposition 13 resulted from those discussions.

We commend Bordonaro for his work on Proposition 13 — he’s among those who signed the ballot argument in favor of the measure — and we join him in backing it.

The San Simeon Earthquake, in which two women died when a Paso Robles building partially collapsed, is a tragic example of the vulnerability of older, unreinforced brick buildings.

Such buildings are common not only in our local communities, but in downtown business districts throughout the state.

Given the danger those buildings pose, we strongly support efforts to complete retrofit projects as expeditiously as possible.

We wish the state could provide more financial incentives to make retrofitting less burdensome, but in this awful economy, that’s simply not possible.

Proposition 13 would at least provide some long-term tax relief for property owners who are trying to do the right thing by making their buildings safer. We strongly urge a yes vote on the measure.

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