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Fee faces some protest

Local property owners call county proposal for runoff ‘unreasonable’

Posted: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Larry and Dwanna Lousberg talk Friday outside their home atop a hill on Bouquet Canyon Road.

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As Los Angeles County looks to levy a new fee to clean up water carried off during storms, some local property owners say the county is getting carried away with the magnitude of the proposed fees.

The fee, known as the Los Angeles County Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure, would not exceed $82 a year for a single-family residence, according to the measure’s website.

But some local residents told The Signal their fees would be much higher.

Steve Colf said he received two notices from the county, one for each of the properties he owns in Newhall.

One, a single-family residence on Heather Knolls Place, has an estimated fee of $72 a year. The other, a 6-acre property on Cross Street, would carry an estimated fee of $3,822 a year.

“I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income and spending almost $350 a month on this fee is a major sum of money,” Colf said.

The story was much the same for Larry and Dwanna Lousberg, who own several acres of property in Saugus off Bouquet Canyon Road.

The Lousbergs received fee estimates for two houses on their property. One was for $83 a year. The Lousbergs’ own house, which is less than a half-mile away, received an estimated fee of $3,547 a year.

“We are not unreasonable people,” Dwanna Lousberg said. “But this fee is unreasonable.”

The fee estimates take into account several factors at each property, including the number of structures on a property, the size and types of those structures and the size of the property itself, according to George Palafox, a customer service representative for the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure.

Though many factors could explain a wide disparity in proposed fees, Palafox said “a number of mistakes” have already been reported in assessing fees.

Palafox encouraged property owners to call the county if they think their fee estimate may be inaccurate.

While the fee for many residential properties is capped around $82 a year, commercial and industrial properties could see a fee of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

According to the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure website, the fee for a typical convenience store or fast food restaurant would be around $250 a year, while a typical home improvement or “big box” retailer would see a fee of around $11,000 a year.

Dale Donohoe, the president of Intertex General Contractors Inc. in Valencia, said the total fee estimates for his commercial properties are around $38,000 a year. Intertex owns several commercial parcels in and around Santa Clarita, including the Bridgeport Marketplace.

Donohoe said the fees may force Intertex to raise rent on tenants to offset the additional expenses.

“This is crazy,” Donohoe said. “This is government at its worst.”

On top of any new fee the county may impose, the city of Santa Clarita already collects its own storm water pollution prevention fee.

The city’s fee funds efforts necessary to comply with state regulations on storm water pollution, according to city Director of Public Works Robert Newman.

These include storm water cleaning services, inspecting drainage areas and facilities, enforcing illegal dumping laws and implementing public educational outreach programs.

Newman said it is unclear how the city’s fee would be affected if the county passes its own fee proposal.

“We haven’t seen what the county’s fee will be eligible to cover,” Newman said.

Some, however, see this as an example of the county trying to double-dip for already-funded services.

“This is a duplication of a fee that we’re already paying,” Colf said. “I am absolutely opposed to it in principle and in practice.”

County property owners have until Jan. 15 to mail in protest forms opposing the fee. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing regarding the proposal at that time.

If a majority of property owners do not protest the fee and supervisors vote to proceed with the measure, the issue goes back to property owners for a vote-by-mail election.

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