Oakland, and the Bay Area in general, is one of the areas hit hardest by California's housing shortage. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Oakland, and the Bay Area in general, is one of the areas hit hardest by California's housing shortage. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

40 Years on, How Does Proposition 13 Impact the California Dream?

40 Years on, How Does Proposition 13 Impact the California Dream?

28 min

D

o you know how much your neighbor's house cost? How about how much they pay in property taxes? We usually don't pry into our neighbors' lives and ask these questions, but as part of our special on California's Proposition 13, that's exactly what we did.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Proposition 13, which essentially locks in a homeowner's property tax to the year they bought their home — no matter how much their home increases in value.

To get a sense of Proposition 13's impact on Californians, KQED Education Reporter Vanessa Rancaño looked at her own neighborhood in North Oakland, where she rents a home.

KQED Education Reporter Vanessa Rancaño invited her North Oakland neighbors over to talk about the impact Proposition 13 has had on their lives. (Sean Havey/KQED)

On a rainy day in late November, three of her neighbors and a fellow Oakland resident met in Rancaño's living room for brunch and a conversation about how Proposition 13 affects each of them differently — even though they live just doors away from each other.

Michelle Krasowski

Michelle Krasowski is a librarian who rents an apartment in North Oakland.
Michelle Krasowski is a librarian who rents an apartment in North Oakland. (Sean Havey/KQED)

Michelle Krasowski works as the Librarian Specialist in support of Adult Services for the Contra Costa County Library System. She has rented an apartment on the block for two years, and says she spends most of her paycheck on rent. She says she was shocked when she found out how her rent compares to what her landlord is paying in property taxes.

"I feel like he's he's getting a lot out of this and I'm getting a lot sucked out of me and my life. I'm here to serve the public and my community, I'm invested in improving people's quality of life — especially for people like me who are government workers. I can't negotiate a higher salary. I have a salary cap. There is no rent cap, there is no home sales cap. So in this particular climate I'll never be able to own a home. And that's really sad to me as somebody who really cares about the people around me."

Ken Wilkins

Ken Wilkens is retired. He bought his house in Oakland in 1976.
Ken Wilkins is retired. He bought his house in Oakland in 1976. (Sean Havey/KQED)

In 1976 (two years before Proposition 13 passed), Ken Wilkins bought his home for $18,500. That was $2,000 less than he paid for the car he drives now. Now, he pays only $1,800 in property taxes, which helps him stay in the neighborhood as a retired senior.

"I think I [voted for Proposition 13], but I really didn't think it out really well. I think there should have been some other compromise like businesses should not have had that break at all. But I actually am happy to be under Proposition 13. [If Proposition 13 were theoretically repealed], I think I would move to Nebraska!"

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Jas Johl

Jas Johl got a job in the tech industry so she could buy her house.
Jas Johl got a job in the tech industry so she could buy her house. (Sean Havey/KQED)

Jas Johl grew up in Sacramento and got a needs-based scholarship to attend UC Berkeley for college. She chose to work in the tech industry because she wanted to own a home in Oakland. She says she is more willing to pay her hefty property taxes ($13,000), because they go toward funding public education. Still, she says, it doesn't seem right that so few people have the chance to be homeowners.

"My parents were immigrants, I grew up in a family of seven on a $35,000 income. And now I am a family of one with...I don't know how many times that income. I do think I'm very lucky but I also feel like it shouldn't be this hard. I like the job I have now. But I mean, would I be a teacher if being a teacher paid the same amount?"

Henry Gardner

Henry Gardner was Oakland's Assistant City Manager in 1978 when Prop 13 passed.
Henry Gardner was Oakland's Assistant City Manager in 1978 when Prop 13 passed. (Sean Havey/KQED)

Henry Gardner has lived in Oakland since 1971. He was Assistant City Manager when Proposition 13 passed and became City Manager three years later. He says as a homeowner, he benefits from Proposition 13 — even though he says it has hurt the city "tremendously." Gardner is a strong advocate of a split roll tax, which would adjust property taxes more frequently. It will be on the ballot in 2020.

"[The] California dream is to expose our children to arts, to culture, to music, to have high-quality libraries, to have communities that are safe. Those are all California dreams. It's not just ownership. It's an opportunity to advance, and we have lost a lot of that. Not all of it’s due to Proposition 13, but a lot of it is."

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