Beware: LA County’s $300 Million Rain Tax is a Blank Check!

LA WATCHDOG--“God gave us rain and you figured out how to tax it.” 

Even though the County does not have a well-developed stormwater or management plan, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to place on the November ballot a $300 million parcel tax to fund the County’s efforts to prevent stormwater and urban runoff from polluting the LA River, the Santa Monica Bay, and our beaches (the “Rain Tax”).  

The County is also claiming that its Safe, Clean Water Program will result in “mutual benefits,” including the exaggerated claim that it will capture of significant volumes of stormwater that will eventually be recycled into the local supply of drinking water.  

This additional tax will require the approval of two-thirds of the voters which is why the County has authorized the expenditure of $11 million to “educate” the voters. But this may be an illegal use of the public’s money as it is funding a political campaign.  

The parcel tax will be determined by multiplying the parcel’s square footage of “impermeable area” by 2.5 cents per square foot.  The impermeable area, space that is unable to absorb the rain water, will be determined by using aerial technology (read satellites and lasers). 

The Rain Tax does not deserve our vote because there is not a comprehensive plan that makes economic sense. Rather, unaccountable politicians are asking us to give them a blank check for $300 million a year (in perpetuity) to fund unidentified projects that will not make economic sense. 

The Los Angeles Times cited Los Amigos Park in Santa Monica as an example of a successful project.  But this $2 million project will save only 550,000 gallons of potable water a year, costing over $80,000 per acre foot in debt service. This compares to the Metropolitan Water District’s price for treated water of around $800 per acre foot.  And this does not include operating and maintenance expenses.   

Unfortunately, this set of unsustainable economics is typical of the limited number of projects listed on the County’s web site, SafeCleanWaterLA.org.  

The management structure of the stormwater program lacks transparency and accountability but increases bureaucracy and overhead.  As opposed to having an independent, experienced Stormwater Czar, the County will allocate the money to many different political constituencies who have their own pet projects that may not be economical or consistent with best management practices.  The allocations include 10% to the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, 40% to the City Los Angeles and other cities in the County, and 50% to nine watersheds controlled by politically appointed regional boards.  

While the County politicians believe that they have the God given right to our money, they fail to acknowledge that the County has record revenues of more than $31 billion.  Rather than hit us up for another new tax, the County has the flexibility to allocate less than 1% of its record budget to the stormwater program. 

The County has also failed to earn our affirmative vote as the Supervisors have not even attempted to reform the County’s pension and Other Post-Employment Benefits plans, both of which are seriously underfunded.  As a result, the ever-increasing contributions to the pension and OPEB plans are crowding out basic services such as the stormwater program.  

Over the past two years, we have been hit up for annual taxes of $1.2 billion by the County and Metro.  This includes the $100 million parcel tax for County parks, the $750 million, half cent increase in our sales tax to fund Metro’s ambitious building program, and a $350 million, quarter cent increase in our sales tax to fund homeless services.  And then there are burden of taxes and bond measures for the City, the Department of Water and Power, the Community College, and the State. 

The Rain Tax is not ready for prime time.  There is no comprehensive plan.  There is no independent, experienced management.  The County is asking us for a blank check to approve overly expensive projects that have yet to be identified.  There are too many layers of government, too many politicians, and too many pet projects.  There is no pension reform.  And there are too many taxes, especially now that County is hauling in record revenues.  

We are not drowning in stormwater, we are drowning in taxes. 

Vote NO on the blank check Rain Tax! 




Ballot Measure Language

Shall an ordinance improving/protecting water quality; capturing rain/stormwater to increase safe drinking water supplies and prepare for future drought; protecting public health and marine life by reducing pollution, trash, toxins/plastics entering Los Angeles County waterways/bays/beaches; establishing a parcel tax of 2.5¢ per square foot of impermeable area, exempting low-income seniors, raising approximately $300,000,000 annually until ended by voters, requiring independent audits, oversight and local control be adopted?


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)