Property owners savor rain tax stay, brace for next protest

The stormwater-cleanup tax on Los Angeles County property owners was postponed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 15, after about 150 people, representing property owners, municipalities and organizations, voiced their opposition to the measure.
The public hearing was continued to Mar. 12, 2013, as the supervisors voted 3-2 to redraft the measure to place it on a general ballot for the entire county electorate rather than only sending out a mail-in ballot to property owners.
The deciding vote by the three supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, also included a sunset clause and a list of projects for the measure. Supervisor Michael Antonovich was unsuccessful in his motion to kill the measure overall.
The mail-in ballots outraged many residents throughout the county upon discovering that the protest form for the stormwater-cleanup fee could be easily mistaken as junk mail.
The Sierra Madre City Council voted 5-0 at its Jan. 8 meeting to protest the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure, but was not confident that enough protests would be submitted countywide by the deadline – in part because of the low-profile mail-in ballots.
“The area that is involved isn’t just Sierra Madre, so the chances of them getting 51 percent in protests is minimal,” said City Manager Elaine Aguilar. “So most likely this will end up going to a vote anyway.”
Because the proposed Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure is a “Proposition 218” fee, a protest process must be conducted before it can be put to a vote in a general election. At least fifty-one percent is required to stop the measure, otherwise the process continues to the second step, which is a formal election.
According to Los Angeles County Flood Control District officials, protest forms were received from about 4.3 percent of property owners, about 95,000 by Jan. 11.
Speaking at the public hearing, Angela George, a Principal Engineer with the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, said the notice was mailed to the owners of the approximately 2.2 million affected parcels within the District, on or before Nov. 30, 2012.
“As required by law, each notice contained the proposed fee amount for the subject parcel, a description of the program, and information on how to obtain the Engineer’s Report,” George said.
Supervisor Antonovich stated months before the public hearing that the Official Notice to Property Owners of Public Hearing appeared to be misleading – while voicing his opposition to it overall.
“While the mailing looks like junk mail, it is an important document that allows one to protest the proposed parcel tax,” he said. “Property owners, schools and businesses already pay flood control taxes and now they are being asked to fork over more money at a time when families are struggling, schools are hurting and businesses are fleeing the state.”
Apparently the cost to taxpayers has already begun for the proposed Clean Water, Clean Beaches fee as the Board of Supervisors had approved $1.65 million on Jul. 3, 2012, for the Flood Control District to mail out the public notices for the protest hearing. The mailers were funded out of the Fiscal Year 2012-13 Flood Control District Budget.
The proposed Clean Water fee is supposed to generate more than $200 million annually in dedicated funding for reducing pollution from stormwater and urban runoff in Los Angeles County waterways.
The fee is determined by the average amount of runoff that properties generate, based on parcel size (but not property value) and land use classification, such as whether the property is residential, commercial, industrial or undeveloped.
Single-family homes would be assessed for about $54 a year under the measure, while large commercial outlets may pay up to $11,000.
Forty percent of the fee revenues collected would be divided up by municipalities and the county to create water-quality improvement programs. Another 50 percent of the revenue would be allocated to the watershed authority group where the properties are located for water-quality improvement programs in the watershed. The remaining 10 percent must be used by the Flood Control District for water-quality monitoring, research, technical assistance and administration.
Residents are encouraged to attend the next hearing before the county supervisors, scheduled for Mar. 12, and to submit a written protest notice, if they have not already done so.
If the Board has not received protests against the fee by a majority of property owners at the end of the hearing, the Board may choose to proceed to the second step in the approval process, an election to approve the fee.
For more information, or to request another protest form, residents may call the Flood Control District at (800) 218-0018, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or email the district at water.info@dpw.lacounty.gov.
Additional information on the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure may also be found at www.lacountycleanwater.org.

By Jim E. Winburn

January 22, 2013

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