Napa County is joining local cities in placing a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to have tourists staying in hotels and other lodgings help pay for workforce housing.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously favored creating a ballot measure to raise the transient occupancy tax from 12 percent to 13 percent in unincorporated areas. The extra 1 percent would go to easing problems caused by high county housing prices.
“Overall, I think it’s another example of the county and cities working together to address one of the biggest priorities we are facing, and that’s housing that’s affordable,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.
Supervisors will take a final vote on the necessary ordinance to create Measure E at its next meeting.
County officials estimate a successful ballot measure would generate $1.1 million annually guaranteed to be spent on housing. If each city also passes a measure, the total take countywide would be about $5 million annually.
The ballot measure crafted by the Board of Supervisors would, if passed by voters, apply only to lodgings in the unincorporated county. But it would appear on ballots throughout the county, including within every city.
“All voters in the county are county voters, whether they live in a city or not,” Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said on Monday.
Meanwhile, each city is creating its own ballot measure for lodgings only within its boundaries. City of Napa residents will vote on a Napa measure, Yountville residents on a Yountville measure and so on.
That means city dwellers will see two transient occupancy tax measures on the ballot. One will be to raise the tax 1 percent in their particular city and the other to raise the tax 1 percent in the unincorporated county.
That’s going to be a little confusing, Tuteur said. City voters might mistakenly think they are being asked to raise the tax by 2 percent with the two measures, instead of 1 percent in different parts of the county.
Given the tax is for a special purpose—housing—it would have to pass by a two-thirds vote.
The existing 12 percent transient occupancy tax goes to the general funds of the county and its cities, helping to pay for everyday services ranging from police to parks. But that’s only part of the picture.
Hotel guests also pay a 2 percent fee on their bills for the tourism improvement district that brings in more than $6 million annually to help Visit Napa Valley promote the county. That means the total lodging levy is 14 percent and, with successful ballot measures, would rise to 15 percent.
Napa City Council candidate James Hinton at recent meetings has repeatedly brought up the tourism improvement district money, which he said has little oversight. On Tuesday, he proposed shifting half of that money to local uses such as housing.
“I find it hard to look the other way while Visit Napa Valley gets 2 percent,” Hinton said.
Napa Valley College Trustee Amy Martenson agreed.
“I don’t think we need to continue to try to promote the Napa Valley for tourism,” she told supervisors. “I think we already have plenty of tourism.”
County officials again said that the tourism improvement district was approved not by voters, but by lodging owners as a self-assessment to market Napa Valley.
“We are nothing more than a conduit for that money coming through our tax collector,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said. “There really is a great misconception. There’s a difference between a tax and a business improvement district funding mechanism, and one which we do not control.”
County officials have said the transient occupancy housing tax hike, should it pass, could be used for such things as making loans to create affordable housing, buying land for housing and helping people make down payments on houses.