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County Board Of Supervisors Delays Vote On New Property Fee

Protest Period For Property Owners Extended 60 Days

Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer

January 29, 2013 – A  proposed parcel fee on all property owners in the Los Angeles County flood control district meant to combat storm water pollution by funding clean water programs was met with such rancorous opposition that the county board of supervisors recently postponed its vote on whether to place the measure on a mail-in ballot this spring.

Property owners had been mailed a protest ballot sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which looked more like junk mail, according to some who spoke during a public hearing January 15. Nevertheless, had more than 50 percent of property owners objected, the proposed fee would have been dead on arrival at the board of supervisors meeting. But that didn’t happen. Not even close. Only about 100,000 protests had been mailed in prior to the meeting.

As a result, the protest period has been extended 60 days. The board of supervisors is likely to meet again to discuss the proposed parcel fee on March 12 or 19. “We continued to hear complaints from residents, businesses, school districts, churches and nonprofits that this process has not been open and transparent,” Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Long Beach, said in a statement.

The proposed fee on property owners in Los Angeles County – about $54 annually for the average homeowner (and higher fees for large commercial and industrial properties) – would fund a variety of environmental restoration, public health and educational programs to mitigate the pollution resulting from storm water runoff. But there is uncertainty about who would manage these programs and how they would be implemented. It also is unclear what kinds of programs would qualify under the proposed plan. Moreover, there is no sunset provision, meaning the fee could be collected indefinitely. The actual specifics of the measure would be outlined in an ordinance if and when, and only after, the voting public gives its approval. The Long Beach City Council pushed forward with its support for the fee prior to the board of supervisors meeting, voting 6-2 to back the proposal, with Gerrie Schipske and Al Austin in opposition. Councilmember Gary DeLong was absent.

Schipske called the process flawed during council discussion. “We are asked to support something that we don’t have all the information about, which is bad policy making . . .” she said. “This proposal singles out property owners with no exceptions. It means a small portion of the population will be paying for the rest.”

“While we may disagree or have challenges with methodology and some of the very significant nuances of the measure, staying silent wasn’t an option,” Councilmember Suja Lowenthal told the Business Journal. “For the second largest city in the county to stay silent on the measure or proposal, I didn’t believe was a responsible option. We have the greatest problems and the greatest to lose.” She added that she supports a sunset provision.

If approved, about $290 million in fees would be collected annually and split three ways: 50 percent allocated to the nine watershed authority groups, 40 percent distributed back to municipalities and 10 percent to the county to administer the fee and related expenses. The City of Long Beach would receive about $5.1 million to spend on its own storm water improvement projects, coastal restoration and other programs. But, as a landowner, the city will also have to pay the fee, which comes to about $1.66 million annually. Other public entities owning property, such as school districts, must also pay up. According to spokesperson Chris Eftychiou, the Long Beach Unified School District would be on the hook for about $715,000. The school board voted in December to oppose the measure.

“Many property owners and businesses are already doing the things the parcel fee is meant to achieve,” Knabe said. “This is a double tax for them. Renters should have a voice as an increase in parcel fees would likely be passed on to them.”

While acknowledging the importance of extending the protest period to “ensure that as many people as possible can participate in the process,” Lowenthal also said she felt “crestfallen” after the board of supervisors meeting. “I’m concerned that it may not push forward at the county level,” she added. “If it goes before the voters, I am absolutely confident it will pass.”