Property owners have some more time to voice concerns about a proposed parcel-tax measure that aims to reduce water pollution caused by storm-water and urban runoff in rivers, lakes, bays and beaches throughout Los Angeles County.
During a Jan. 15 public hearing on the proposal, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which serves as the governing body of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, approved a motion made by 4th District County Supervisor Don Knabe, an outspoken critic of the measure, to allow more time for protesting the initiative.
The board approved extending the public hearing and the deadline an additional 60 days, allowing property owners to submit a protest by March 12.
“We continued to hear complaints from residents, businesses, school districts, churches and nonprofits that this process has not been open and transparent,” Knabe said in a prepared statement. “Even as the board was hearing testimonies at the public hearing, my office was receiving emails and phone calls from residents asking where they could get a protest form and how they could protest the measure.”
The board also instructed Los Angeles County Public Works to come up with a process to place the initiative on a general-election ballot, define a specific list of clean-water projects, specify a sunset date when the tax would no longer be collected, determine the feasibility of an online protest option and address concerns of “double taxation” for those already capturing and treating storm water.
The proposed Clean Water, Clean Beaches Initiative proposes to raise over $200 million per year for water projects in cities and unincorporated areas. The funding, however, would be generated through an annual parcel “fee” charged to all property owners within the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, which includes most of Los Angeles County, with the exception of portions of Antelope Valley.
Although the County’s website says the charge is considered a fee, Supervisor Knabe and other government officials still call the charge a parcel tax.
The fee, nonetheless, would be calculated based on a property’s size and use. According to the County’s website on the measure, most homeowners would pay $54 or less per year, and the majority of condo owners would pay $20 or less per year. However, owners of larger property would have to pay much higher fees. The Long Beach Unified School District, for instance, would be required to pay a fee of about $715,000 per year, according to a December report by school-district officials.
The LBUSD Board of Education, in addition to other school boards, has already taken a stance against the measure, adding that the fee would cause the district to make more cuts, including possibly eliminating teacher positions.
According to the County, it is required by law that 40 percent of the fee revenues collected will be allocated to the City in which the properties are located, or to the County of Los Angeles for the unincorporated areas, for the water-quality improvement programs as determined by each city or the County. Another 50 percent of the fee revenues are to be allocated to watershed authority groups.
The City of Long Beach would be required to pay a parcel fee as well, which City officials estimate would be about $1.6 million per year. Still, Long Beach stands to receive about $5.1 million in revenue and would possibly be able to apply for $29.7 million from watershed authority groups toward project and program funds, according to a report from City staff.
The Long Beach City Council at its Jan. 8 meeting voted 6-2 to support the measure, acknowledging concerns about the new taxes on property owners, but stressing the need to clean up the shoreline in Long Beach.
The County states that pollution in waterways throughout Los Angeles County have been found to be “well above established public health standards, and the requirements of the Clean Water Act.”
County officials add that polluted water runoff, including bacteria that come down the Los Angeles River, causes health risks at local beaches and has created an oxygen-starved “dead zone” off of the Los Angeles County coastline at the outlet of the San Gabriel River. In addition, deaths of seals, sea lions and dolphins that number in the hundreds are attributed to pollution and reduced food sources, according to the County.
Fifth District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who voted against supporting the measure along with 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, praised Knabe for pushing to extend the protest period.
“A majority of my residents who responded to a poll on the parcel tax are in opposition… It would be grossly unfair for the board to move forward on a measure with inadequate feedback from constituents,” she said in a prepared statement. “I’m glad that Supervisor Knabe understands that this may be a double tax for many of our property owners and renters.”
The County notes that fees cannot be raised without voters approving such action through an election. In accordance with Proposition 218, if a majority of property owners in the county do not submit written protests by the close of the hearing, the board may place the initiative on an election ballot.