In the last few days of her tenure as San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Carmen Chu launched two final projects — a user-friendly property tax system and a proactive effort to conduct COVID-19 market evaluations on condos and commercial properties.
Phase one of the new property tax system was launched Jan. 25, and is the first step in replacing the existing outdated “green screen system” that was put into place in the 1980s, Chu said during a press conference Friday. The current system doesn’t have “information, modern reporting capabilities that we need or sometimes even audit trails that we would want to have for our system,” Chu said.
“Even being able to do work in our system takes a lot of manual entry, not a lot of automated ways for information put in one screen to carry over to the next, there are many cases where you have to enter it in multiple places,” Chu said. “So you can just imagine the waste of time and the inefficiencies and the possibilities of mistakes that could happen in a system like that.”
Though there is a long way to go to completely replace the old system, Chu said it’s in a “very good place” with them having launched the first phase of the program.
Chu, who took office as assessor in 2013, won’t be there to see it through, however, as she is set to take over as city administrator starting next week.
Chu said she hopes her successor, Joaquín Torres, will continue the work she has started in looking into potential reductions in condo prices and commercial properties. Chu’s office has been collecting data and doing market research to understand whether or not there is a case to be made to change property taxes for commercial properties, she said.
In instances when there are big disruptions in the market, the assessor’s office is supposed to proactively do work to lower property taxes if they have the data to show it, Chu said.
Chu compared this situation to the 2008 housing crash, when then-Assessor Phil Ting did proactive reductions in different neighborhoods in the city because he saw evidence to show reductions in prices, Chu said.
“We’re in a similar situation right now, where as a result of the pandemic you’re seeing a overall market wide reduction in value of condos, possibly,” Chu said. “And so we’re looking into the data just to make sure that it can confirm that.”
Torres agreed with Chu’s sentiments in an email Friday, stating that “San Francisco’s economic recovery depends on our proactively considering every possible tool at our disposal to support residents and businesses in building back our economy including the exploration of Prop 8 tax reductions and other tax assistance programs. We’re going to build upon former Assessor Chu’s good work as we chart our path in alignment with our reopening and recovery.”
During her eight years as assessor Chu worked on several large projects, including eliminating a backlog of assessment cases that San Francisco had for decades and launching a new mapping software that allows the office to visualize and see trends in San Francisco.
Chu said when she took on the role of assessor, it was important to her to concentrate on things that helped the organization run well because of the stable revenue property taxes provide for San Francisco’s general operations and public education.
“When you think about some of the things that many community members care a lot about, whether it’s how San Francisco runs or the education of their children, it’s an incredibly important function in San Francisco,” Chu said.
Prior to working as assessor, Chu worked as deputy director of the budget and finance office under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, and also served as a member of the elected Board of Supervisors.
Chu was nominated for city administrator by Mayor London Breed following Naomi Kelly’s resignation from the position. Kelly’s husband, former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission head Harlan Kelly, was charged with fraud for allegedly accepting bribes from city contractor Walter Wong.