Cleaner Water, Higher Taxes
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 2
By Steve Propes
Annually, the local homeowner receives a property tax bill with fees and assessments to the general tax levy for a myriad of districts like community college, local schools, water, flood control, parks, emergency medical, sanitation, and not to forget, mosquito control.
Now comes a county directed proposal to add another fee of about $54 to the average tax bill for clean water, which is currently being debated by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. A key issue is whether to levy the fee if fifty percent of property owners protest or to proceed in allowing L.A. County voters to decide.
According to Long Beach Director of Government Affairs/Strategic Initiatives Tom Modica, “the county has spent several years coming up with a way to fund the clean water act that the federal government is going to require.
“It came down that it should be a property tax fee. Long Beach has been involved for the last several years,” said Modica.
On the Jan. 8, 2013 Long Beach City Council meeting, Third District Coucilwoman Suja Lowenthal and Ninth District Councilman Steven Neal moved the council support the tax dubbed Clean Water, Clean Beaches.
Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske took the lead in opposing the tax, stating most homeowners ignored the notice of the proposed tax sent during the holiday mailing blizzard and thus were not aware that they could protest.
Schipske also complained “the council never saw the original ordinance they voted to support. We were told we’ve got to do this right away, but they never gave us the background information. I find it insulting.”
“The city council had directed us to negotiate the best deal we could get in the fee. The council supports the fee, attached several conditions. We’ve sent memos to the council informing them of the progress,” said Modica, who supplied memos sent by City Manager Pat West to the mayor to the council outlining the proposed fee on April 30 and December 27, 2012.
Schipske agreed the measure was originated by “county staff and our city staff. We’ve been working on this for years. We do need to take care of storm water problems.” Although homeowners are slated to foot the bill, Schipske contended, “households are not the source of the water problems. I did a poll of those in my email, of about 500 voters came back 91 percent opposed.”
The measure as proposed would provide nearly $300 million annually to clean-up storm water runoff.
According to Schipske, “There’s a federal clean water act, have to clean up discharge to make sure you’re not going to add to pollution.”
Modica responded, “We are under direction and regulation to clean up, but compliance schedules aren’t hitting us right now,” referring to a 2002 estimate of “over a billion dollars of compliance costs.” Modica further stated that such an early estimate could easily be recalculated at an even higher cost.
“Let’s take a look at tidelands money,” Schipske answered. “There is a $16 million surplus, we can use those moneys for the purpose of cleaning the river.”
At the end of debate, the council voted six to two to support the tax. Schipske and Eighth District Councilman Al Austin opposed and Third District Councilman Gary DeLong was absent.
“The council gave us direction to support the fee the way it’s been discussed. A certain amount of money will go to the city and to area groups. The council wanted a sunset, to stop the fee after thirty years,” which was added during council debate.
About this vote, Schipske added, “It was never made clear we were waiving our right to protest. Our obligation is to clean up if we’re illegally dumping. Where is the list of things we’re going to clean up?”
Asked to predict whether such a fee would be added to the property tax bills, Schipske asserted, “by the backwards way the voting is conducted, if they don’t get considerable protests, it will go into effect. I’m in favor of clean water, but this is a tax issue.” Neither Neal nor Lowenthal responded to requests for an interview.
One week after the council’s action, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took up the matter. County staff reported they received about 95,000 written protests, or about four percent of those subject to the proposed parcel property fee. Staff further stated that protests submitted via the Internet wouldn’t be counted.
With about 200 people testifying in a five-hour session, the board voted three to two on a motion by Supervisor Don Knabe to extend the protest period, which ended on Jan. 15 for 60 additional days and to continue the matter to gather more information, including whether to allow Internet protests. During testimony, Supervisor Yaroslavsky asserted, “What is clear is this is not ready for prime time.