Unanswered questions at the Los Angeles County Clean Water, Clean Beaches protest hearing January 15, 2013
Read our prior story on this subject
These are the questions that we are taking to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors meeting on January 15, 2013, to the so called Clean Water, Clean Beaches "protest hearing", 11 a.m. January 15, 2013, 500 W. Temple St. in downtown Los Angeles.
We will amend this article and these questions (and hopefully add answers) as time goes by so keep checking back. We are posting it before the hearing and sending it to the supervisors so they can look it over. Each citizen will only be given about one minute to speak at this meeting so clearly that is not enough time to even read this post aloud or let alone get any real answer to these questions below. But we do want these questions answered and we expert the Board to get these answers for us.
The County is attempting to get this stormwater run off tax passed by using Proposition 218. This Proposition 218 is very tricky. This is the 1996 initiative that was used to try to prevent government entities from assessing property owners with new fees and trying to escape election requirements. Amazingly the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn put this measure on the 1996 ballot. Proposition 218's very specific liberal construction provision mandates that the provisions of 218 "shall be liberally construed to effectuate its purposes of limiting local government revenue and enhancing taxpayer consent." But it made things even more murky. It is not at all clear who gets to vote on on the property held by government entities or property with multiple owners or how renters fare in all this. Not resolved at this time as far as we know. We also know that its government or commercial property (at least in inner city areas) that pollutes the most as most of it is paved unlike residential lots. This gets even more tricky as the ballots have to be "weighed" in proportion to the amount of the assessment each property owner would pay. (For example, if homeowner Jones would pay twice as much assessment as homeowner Smith, homeowner Jones' vote would "count" twice as much as homeowner Smith's vote.). Of course this "weighting" gets even trickier with the phoney ways in which they can total up the "run off" and thus assessment on each lot. The assessment may be imposed only if 50 percent or more of the weighted ballots support the assessment.This of course favors those voting for the large government properties. We suspect most government entities will vote in favor of the tax, especially if the schools are given a free pass on this.
The 50% requirement really is laughable as a regular vote for a tax (not using this silly Prop 218 mechanism passed in 1996) is a 2/3 yes vote requirement in order to pass. Also we are still looking into this problem which is even a bigger scam; if Knabe is correct and most people just threw their ballots out as junk mail (we almost did) then the vast majority of private landowners will not be voting. That means the yes (pass the tax) votes automatically win. To defeat the tax we think it has to be 50% of all properties, not just those that vote.
There are many other questions we have which are not answered at all or adequately at this time:
Can homeowners test their own run off volume and chemicals in that water? And if less than what the county shows in its "formulas" can we get a new assessment as is done for property tax assessments?
Formulas are allegedly used to determine impervious land area. We would like to see the report on this particularly as to what the rate will be per square foot on each lot (residential, commercial, and government owned) and exactly how it is that the County will determine "the amount of impervious area on the property". What about water from impermeable areas that drains to permeable areas? how is that accounted for? We see a fiasco there and a whole new "appeals" process for homeowners disagreeing with the result or people that "capture" run off (very few residents currently but more likely after this). According to what we were told by the County Dept of Public works on this: "The amount average impervious is determined by using nationally accepted data for residential , commercial and industrial land use..." Accepted by who?
18% of my prop tax bill is "voted indebtedness" or "direct assessments" on top of my "property tax" assessed amount for the "general tax levy". The general tax levy is the only part subject to Prop 13. The other 18% not subject to prop 13. If this measure passes 21% of my tax bill will be for "voted indebtedness" or "direct assessments" which never end and are never subject to Prop 13. There are three "direct assessments" on my bill that also currently go to county flood districts or county water treatment districts. These assessments alone are currently 8.4% of my overall tax bill. Also these direct assessments are not based on a percentage of the property tax bill. So if you are older and have been in your house a long time and pay low tax rates under prop 13, these assessments are a big deal and consume a larger and larger share of your tax bill the longer you have been in the house.
It is reported that the measure would raise about $295 million for building storm water treatment projects. That's great but what is the calculated total of the projects currently ready to go into construction that will help address this issue? What specific projects have been proposed? Cost? Budgeted?
Are businesses that have oil and other hazardous elements on the property going to be charged more? Or people with leaky oily cars that leave oil on the pavement? Apparently not.
Who is going to determine if a project is to be funded by the "runoff tax"? What is the criteria? We saw millions spent on a recent project in the San Gabriel River that was a total waste of taxpayer dollars. Who on the taxpayer side is going to over see this to make sure that the funds are spent for run off and not other projects that should be built with general funds? Or state or federal funds? Will state or federal funds be available for some of these runoff projects? If not why not? Who is going to watch over all the funds given to cities on this issue?
How was the tax rate determined? did the County just work backwards from numbers it wanted to hit? set an amount it needed and look at total surface area? what are the estimates of total funds needed to fix the runoff problem?
What percentage of the "run off tax" budget will be spent on "educating the public" not to throw trash in the river or pour oil in the storm drains? Don't we already do that now with current budget money?
What if the County or a city violates the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit? Is the state or the Federal Govt. going to fine the county? That's laughable. The law requiring this run off tax was created by the state so it can be delayed or modified by the state especially if they see its not passed in a popular vote (not a Prop 218 shenaigan)
As this was fed/state mandate ( the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)) why don't we get funds from the federal or state government to pay for it? (unfunded mandates problem)
Are all the other local counties subject to the same permits and proposed taxes? If not why not? What are they doing in response? How are they doing it?
What if the fix or the projects (which we know very little about now in terms of cost or efficacy) end up costing less that the taxes bring in? Or what if they cost much more than the tax brings in? Or what if the projects do not have the intended effect?
Can the asessment be lessened each year and varied based on the budgeted items or projects that are "shovel ready"? Who determines this?
What if the run off tax does not pass? then what? is there a set aside in the general fund for these so called stormwater run off projects? A "rainy day fund?" (no pun intended)
If you have your own questions please pass them along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
from earlier reports of the tax in May 2012:
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote this week on a proposal to tax homeowners an average of $54 per parcel to raise funds to treat polluted storm water before it reaches local lakes and beaches. If the supervisors decide to move forward with the Water Quality Funding Initiative at their June 6 meeting, it must be approved by a majority of voters. Voting would take place in a 45-day mail-in ballot election between next March and May, according to county documents. The proposal, in the works for five years, would raise as much as $273 million to clean the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers by assessing property by parcel size and the amount of impervious area on the property, according to the proposal. The more impervious area that water cannot easily penetrate - such as blacktop - the higher the assessment. Urban run-off consists of storm water from rainfall that picks up animal feces, bacteria, lead, arsenic, waste oil from automobiles and other hazardous chemicals from lawn fertilizers and household pesticides as it makes its way along washes, creeks, streams and rivers to the ocean. When carried down the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena and South Pasadena, or the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel rivers, the toxic stew pollutes local lakes - such as Legg Lake in Whittier Narrows, Peck Road Park's lake on the border of south Arcadia and El Monte - and ocean beaches in Seal Beach and Long Beach, county officials said. Cash-poor cities are responsible for cleaning up this pollution but don't have the money to pay for cleanup projects. State legislation passed in 2010 enabled the county to begin collecting parcel fees to take care of the problem. The annual parcel tax, as proposed, would vary from $8 to $83 per year. Single family parcels would account for 75 percent of the properties, according to Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. Every property in L.A. County would be assessed, except in the Antelope Valley. That includes 2.1 million parcels in nine watersheds stretching across the county: Ballona Creek, Dominguez Channel, Upper Los Angeles River, Lower Los Angeles River, Rio Hondo River, Upper San Gabriel River, Lower San Gabriel River, Santa Clara River and Santa Monica Bay. About 40 percent of the money would be distributed to 85 cities in the county, 50 percent would go to watershed groups made up of cities and unincorporated county communities, and 10 percent would go to the Los Angeles County Flood Control District for administrative costs, according to county documents. The county supervisors were supposed to vote on the proposal last fall, but the city of Los Angeles objected to the distribution formulas and wanted more time to tweak the proposal, Lee said. Indeed, the supervisors were scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday, but pushed it back again eight days.
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