Tag Archives: Archdiocese

Angels and Demonizing

Over the weekend the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco fired back against me for asking them to pay the city transfer tax the law says they owe to the City and County of San Francisco.

The Archdiocese called my decision to ask them to pay transfer taxes shameful, and the spokesperson for the Archdiocese insinuated that my decision was based on the city’s budget deficit, the Churches position on Proposition 8, or even on political considerations.

Here’s news for you folks – if I was taking on one of the world’s oldest and most powerful institutions for “political considerations,” I am not a very calculating politician.

What I am is Assessor-Recorder of San Francisco with a sworn duty to treat everyone equally under the law. And the law in this case is clear, despite this recent press offensive which is designed to muddy the waters. (edit by Brian, see the flip…)


Unless the transfer falls within an exemption, the San Francisco Transfer Tax Ordinance imposes a tax on any person or entity, including non-profit corporations, who transfer property within San Francisco. When the Archdiocese transfers legal ownership of property, it owes a transfer tax. There is no exemption from transfer tax for religious institutions transfers either under state law or the San Francisco ordinances, such exemption having been considered and rejected.

The Church citation of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church to support their claim that they do not owe the tax is interesting from a scholarly perspective, but completely irrelevant from a legal one. We are controlled by California laws, not by church practices.

If the Church merely wanted to “re-organize,” there is a way to do so in a fashion that does not require paying the transfer tax. But its decision to legally transfer assets to newly created separate entities to give itself legal protection from lawsuits is just one of the factors showing that this is not a mere reorganization, but a legal transfer as defined under California law.

The law is the law. It remains the law in good budget times and bad. It remains the law whether you agree or disagree with the behavior or the individuals and corporations.

The representatives of the Catholic Church can demonize me all they want. I know we are on the right side of the law.

Nothing to Confess

As Assessor-Recorder in San Francisco neither my religion nor my politics has anything to do with my job.  

As Assessor-Recorder in San Francisco neither my religion nor my politics has anything to do with my job.

But in the last few months, my Google Alerts has been buzzing with repeated mentions in various religious and ultra-conservative blogs about my decision to levy a transfer tax on the Catholic Church in San Francisco – a tax that could ultimately total between $3 and $15 million. The Archdiocese of San Francisco has made the decision to transfer ownership of virtually all the property they hold to another entity. The law is clear – if you transfer ownership of a property, you owe a transfer tax.

A certain strain of conspiracy theorists seem to think my faith or strong opposition to Proposition 8 had something to do with my decision. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since the day I took office – I’ve taken a “call it as I see it” approach.  Even though I have a background in progressive politics and civil rights, as Assessor I leave politics out when it comes to doing my job.  I certainly know my religious heritage has nothing at all to do with my work. My job is to enforce the law fairly – and that’s what I do.

The Archdiocese continues to claim that the transactions are a mere  “re-organization,” and accordingly, that there is no substantial organizational change (i.e. beneficial interests remain the same).  That is not correct.  In fact, the church transferred multiple parcels from one legal entity to two separate legal entities, each one with a different corporate internal management structure.  This type of transaction is a taxable event under local law.  I have explained this to representatives of the Archdiocese many times.

According to some legal opinions, one of the effects of such a transfer of Church property in the fashion they seek will be that Church assets would be shielded from potential future legal judgments.  True or not, that is not within my power to stop.

What is in my power is the ability to enforce the law completely and fairly. And in San Francisco, if you transfer property, you owe property transfer tax, whether you’re an individual or an organization. It’s important to note that the Archdiocese remains exempted from annual property tax, as well as federal income tax related to their 501(c)(3) status.

The political pressure to reverse my decision is already building. And as I mentioned above, certain folks are already trying to spin my decision to be about politics or religion.

It is about neither. It is about enforcing the law fairly. And in San Francisco we have the same law for individuals as we do for powerful institutions.