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Drowning in the Storm Water Parcel Tax

LA WATCHDOG - The County’s $276 million Storm Water Parcel Tax is not ready for prime time consideration by its Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 19 because of the failure to disclose any detailed information, a flawed voting structure, and the unwillingness of the nearly insolvent City of Los Angeles to embrace meaningful financial reform.

There is little to no financial or operational information that has been made public by the County’s Department of Public Works and its Flood Control District despite years of study and planning. We do not even have an estimate of the cost of the Storm Water project other than it will in the “billions of dollars.”

Yet “billions” is a significant understatement.

In 2009, when the City Council summarily flushed its storm water parcel tax proposed by Board of Sanitation, the cost of the City’s storm water plan was estimated to be $8 billion over the next 20 years.  This implies that the County’s Storm Water Plan ticket will be in the range of $20 billion to $70 billion based on the relationship of the City’s population (39%) and land area (12%) to that of the County.  

Needless to say, the massive and ever growing cost and scope of the Storm Water Plan implies major league increases in the $276 million parcel fee. The average parcel fee could increase from $125 to more than $500 if the Storm Water Plan requires $40 billion, thereby increasing the real estate tax assessment of the average home owner by 10%.       

The obfuscation will continue if the County proceeds with a “stealth” election where the County’s 2.2 million parcel owners vote by mail in the spring of 2013.  

Under this novel and very expensive to administer voting methodology, there is no opposition argument or independent analysis of the parcel tax as there would be if the initiative were on a traditional ballot.

For example, in the recent Contra Costa Water Quality Initiative parcel fee by mail election, the only information supplied to the parcel owners was prepared by the same government bureaucrats and politicians and their high priced consultants who were promoting the parcel tax.

[Note: Almost 60% of the voters in Contra Costa County rejected its Clean Water Initiative Parcel Tax, surprising many Bay Area political observers.]

But the deck is further stacked in this non secret ballot because all government owned parcels are entitled to a vote.  This includes parcels owned by Federal, State, and County governments, including the Flood Control District, as well as those owned by the cities (such as Los Angeles), schools districts (such as LAUSD), and all other special districts, including our Department of Water and Power.

And how do you think these high politicized, cash hungry governments will vote?

The approval of the County’s Storm Water Parcel Tax is also endangered as the cynical and skeptical homeowners in the City of Los Angeles are unlikely to support any parcel tax.  There is a complete lack of trust in the fiscally irresponsible, budget busting rascals that occupy City Hall … the same scoundrels who are responsible for our lunar cratered streets and who refuse to address the City’s Structural Deficit that is projected to total in excess of $1 billion over the next four years.

And this skepticism will only increase when the homeowners realize that it was only three years ago when the City refused to put a Storm Water Parcel Tax before the property owners or voters because the Council Members realized that its odds of passing were slim to none.    

And the cynicism will be only fueled when the City’s homeowners understand that a portion of this parcel tax will more than likely be diverted to cover expenditures of the City’s General Fund, similar to what is happening as the City raids Measure R funds that are designed for large scale transportation projects.  

And over the next five years, the City’s Ratepayers will be slammed with increases of over $2 billion in their water, power, and sewer bills, to say nothing of the proposed increases in the state’s income and sales taxes that are on the November ballot.

The Supervisors need to provide parcel owners and voters with more complete financial and operational information about its Storm Water Plan and at the same time, develop a fairer system for voting that provides for a balanced presentation of the facts and eliminates the participation of government owned properties.

And the Supervisors need to understand that there will be no new taxes or fees approved unless the fiscally irresponsible occupants of City Hall place a charter amendment on the March ballot that requires the City to “Live Within Its Means.”

It is very simple.  No Reform. No Revenues.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: lajack@gmail.com)
–cw

Tags: Jack Humphreville, LA Watchdog, Storm Water Parcel Tax, City Council, city budget, LA County, County Department of Public Works, taxes, ballot measures







CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 49
Pub: June 19, 2012