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Alice Khosravy: Process still matters to county voters

Posted: December 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The latest installment in the local tax debate rages on as the Los Angeles County supervisors attempt to pass the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure. The Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure is described by proponents as “an extensive effort to protect public health, and increase drinking water supplies, by cleaning up our rivers, lakes, bays, beaches and coastal waters. Los Angeles County waterways have been found to be contaminated with toxins, trash and health-threatening pollutants above acceptable levels under the federal Clean Water Act and other state and federal laws.”

Those who oppose it cite that the measure allows for 20 percent of the $276 million (estimated) revenue to be spent on “administration.” However, “project management” isn’t categorized as “administration” so it would not be subject to the cap. This raises serious concerns regarding the implementation of the measure. It warrants full disclosure and a complete “due process” for the taxpayers who are likely to be stuck with a bill that doesn’t deliver on the promise of the measure.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against the proposal in July because they objected to what they called a tax on residents. As the requirements of the measure result from unfunded mandates by the federal government, they feel the funding should come from the federal or state government. Additionally, they cite objections to the process of the proposal and feel the measure should be put to voters in a future regular election rather than to property owners via a mail-in ballot. Supervisor Knabe released a statement on his website stating “Many county residents have been receiving letters in the mail regarding a Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure. I am here to tell you that I strongly oppose this measure, and believe that the way the process is being managed is a sneaky attempt to get it passed.”

When lawmakers openly state the process is “sneaky,” I feel the need to investigate. What is the process?

The process by which the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is attempting to pass the parcel tax involves sending out “voting cards” to property owners. The voting cards explain the proposed measure and serve as notice of public hearing on the measure. They also explain that if 50 percent of the property owners protest the parcel tax by returning the voting card with a no vote, prior to the date of the public hearing, that the measure will not move forward. This procedure contains two major obstacles to honest public participation:

1. The mailer is unexpected by the average property owner and it resembles junk mail. This often results in it being tossed out with the stacks of unsolicited mail prior to it being read.

2. By requiring 50 percent of the property owners to protest with a vote of no, that means that not voting results in an automatic vote of yes.

So, if you assumed the mailer was junk mail and threw it away, you just voted yes for a tax increase. What? No, really that is how it works.

The next step in the current process would be the public hearing that is scheduled for Jan. 15. Unless more than half of the county’s property owners protest, the supervisors likely will schedule a special election mail-in vote for March. The special election mail-in vote would be mailed only to property owners and would require only a simple majority vote to pass.

Clean Water and Clean Beaches is something most of us want, so why not put it to a full vote of the public instead of a mail-in special election? The only reason that I can find is that the special election mail-in vote only requires a simple majority but a tax in a regular election requires a two thirds approval to pass. I agree with Supervisors Antonvich and Knabe, the process stinks and creates an atmosphere of skepticism of the measure. Property owners who are looking for additional information, or who may have inadvertently thrown away their voting card are encouraged to contact the office of our local county supervisor, Mike Anotovich. The voting public deserves Clean Water and Clean Beaches but the current county measure is deficient in its implementation and its process. I will be returning my voting-card with a vote of no and hope that others do the same.

Alice Khosravy is a resident of the Santa Clarita Valley.

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