There’s a book making waves among economists named Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In part, the tome by Thomas Picketty rising in influence since its release last year proposes a global tax on capital, not income. The plausibility of installing such a radical notion of taxation in its entirety is next to zero. However, the germ of the idea could possibly be applied to some local East Bay cities continuing to struggle on the revenue-generating side of the ledger. An editorial in last week’s Bloomberg Businessweek advocated for the idea. “For one thing, it gets the incentives right. If a global tax on capital were imposed, owners of valuable assets such as empty lots might be more likely to put them to good use, or sell them to someone who could, to cover the tax bill.”
Empty storefronts in Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, San Leandro, Hayward and others, currently lie fallow even as the economy begins to percolates. But, the resurgence has been excruciatingly slow. All of the cities mentioned are beginning to see new small businesses sprout again, but more could be done, especially for properties owned by landlords who have learned having storefronts empty at this time pencils out to smaller losses than the risk of a new businesses opening its doors.
Case in point, Hayward’s downtown could sometimes act as a sound stage for the television show, The Walking Dead. Foot traffic is low and many storefronts are abandoned and the ones in business fail to capture the imagination of residents and out-of-towners. The notion Hayward can’t attract new businesses based on the merits of the city may not be entirely true. Last year, Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney specifically called out some property owners, many he said, who live in Hayward, for purposely leaving their properties empty in hopes of better rental deals in the future. Maybe Hayward could be the place to foster some sort of vacancy tax on empty storefronts?
They wouldn’t be alone. A staffer from another East Bay city said recently they may offer their city council a similar vacancy tax in the near future. Although the Hayward City Council is now notorious around East Bay political circles for their Draconian wage cut imposition against city workers, a vastly more progressive assault on greedy property owners would certainly garner appreciation from the 99 percent.
Additionally, with less than two months before Hayward elects a new mayor, the four candidates, three of whom sit on the City Council, have yet to prescribe any new ideas for putting the city back on track. Generally, the topics of conversation have been about how projects, long discussed and already built, have ruined Hayward. The Loop and the Russell City Energy Center are monuments to Hayward’s myopic past. Yet, almost nobody is talking about how Hayward can rise from the ashes. Hayward City Council candidate Rocky Fernandez, in fact, is talking about forward-thinking ideas like no other candidate in recent memory. His youthful outlook on the future includes using some of the empty storefronts as incubators for the new businesses and technologies of the future. If something like a vacancy tax could unlock some of those properties, the next Twitter, Facebook or some type of gadget or services we can’t even fathom today might grow there.
Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.