Berkeley – KPFA-FM has not paid property taxes to Alameda County for the last six years for the station’s studio at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr Way in Berkeley. At six years of consecutive unpaid property taxes, the County Tax Collector may seize the property for public auction and the tax collector has announced their intention to do so.
The payment of property taxes due is a local responsibility of station management and is entrusted to KPFA business manager Maria Negret under the supervision of general manager Quincy McCoy and under the oversight of KPFA’s local station board. The KPFA local board treasurer is Sharon Adams.
As a not for profit organization, KPFA can file annually for a significant reduction in property tax bills to get relief from the commercial property tax rate, but the nonprofit exemption filing has not been made timely for 7 of the last 8 years.
This is not a new problem. In 2011-2012, then Pacifica board treasurer Tracy Rosenberg noticed that the nonprofit exemption had not been filed with the assessor’s office and that KPFA was delinquent on 2011 property taxes in the amount of $57,408.26. Rosenberg was able to exert enough pressure on Negret to get the delinquent exemption filing completed and the taxes were reduced to $1,600 and paid. Unfortunately, the neglect resumed in 2013-2014 and has continued through 2019 with unpaid commercial property taxes on KPFA’s studio reaching $486,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. The Assesssor’s office can only make retroactive reductions to the nonprofit rate for a maximum of three years.
In 2018, a title report run on behalf of lenders revealed a then delinquent property tax roll on the 1929 Martin Luther King Jr Way property of $279,000. KPFA business manager Negret was instructed to address the matter. Invoices and property tax statements from the Alameda County Assessor’s Office for the property are mailed to 1929 Martin Luther King Jr Way.
Negret stated that she was unable to file property tax exemptions or make payments due to the fact that the Pacifica Foundation had changed its legal name from “Pacifica Foundation” to “Pacifica Foundation Radio” in 2013. She continued to insist this was the case even after being provided with the form to record a name change. KPFA defaulted on property tax filings and payments for two more years. The station properties owned by KPFK-FM in Los Angeles and KPFT-FM in Houston have been able to execute their filings and payments without incident and have no property tax delinquency.
In addition to the potential sale of the property, KPFA’s failure to file tax returns and pay taxes may destabilize a financial loan to the Pacifica Foundation that is secured with a partial mortgage on all three Pacifica-owned properties, potentially endangering the buildings housing KPFK-FM in Los Angeles and KPFT in Houston.
KPFA’s local station board UIR/Save KPFA majority group has been attempting to interfere in the affairs of other stations and the national network, with some members heavily involved in the raid and shutdown on WBAI in October, and other members attempting to replace the nonprofits bylaws, while neglecting crucial financial accountability duties at their own station. This has now led to the threatened public auction of KPFA’s studio, the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of member contributions, and potentially the forced sale of other Pacifica station’s home studios.
KPFA does have a fund held in trust at the San Francisco Foundation with a few hundred thousand dollars of endowment funds in it. This fund is held in escrow and the principal amount is not accessible to the station. It is possible that a request to the Foundation to release those funds in order to prevent the public auction and sale of the building for unpaid property taxes might be granted. We suggest KPFA management and local board make that request immediately. This is a sad ending for the check that laid uncashed in then-KPFA manager Lemlem Rijio’s desk for 14 months in 2009, but less sad then the completely unnecessary loss of the member-purchased 1929 MLK property due to staff and local board negligence.
We encourage members to insist that the trust funds be requested to prevent the building sale. You may write to your elected delegates on the KPFA local station board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Started in 1946 by conscientious objector Lew Hill, Pacifica’s storied history includes impounded program tapes for a 1954 on-air discussion of marijuana, broadcasting the Seymour Hersh revelations of the My Lai massacre, bombings by the Ku Klux Klan, going to jail rather than turning over the Patty Hearst tapes to the FBI, and Supreme Court cases including the 1984 decision that noncommercial broadcasters have the constitutional right to editorialize, and the Seven Dirty Words ruling following George Carlin’s incendiary performances on WBAI. Pacifica Foundation Radio operates noncommercial radio stations in New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and syndicates content to over 180 affiliates. It invented listener-sponsored radio.