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Gary Horton: Woeful waste water fees are water torture

Posted: February 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Over at the Santa Clarita Economic Development Corporation last week, things got rightfully hot and bothered over ... storm water run-off.

Newhall Land Development Inc. President Greg McWilliams led the charge, rapping knuckles on the conference table voicing great displeasure over the county’s proposed “Clean Water, Clean Beaches” fee.

Paraphrasing: “This is yet another tax imposed unilaterally upon an unsuspecting public already taxed into hardship. The L.A. County Flood Control District is attempting to assess this tax by trickery and without proper public discourse and without fully communicating intentions.

“It’s a tax without an agenda other than to develop an agenda to spend tax money.”

McWilliams balanced his tone sharing TimBen Boydston’s quip saying, “God invented rain and the county has found a way to tax it!”

Local developer Larry Rasmussen continued, noting that while the fee is onerous enough to EVERY property owner in the county, even cash-strapped schools and agencies aren’t exempt.

Our William S. Hart Union High School District would be facing down nearly $400,000 per year, and our city would be throttled for $500,000.

Figure the loss of six public school teachers and management at four or five public parks — EVERY YEAR.

Rasmussen rightly observed that, “If you think California is uncompetitive now, let’s see what adding even more onerous fees will do to our industry.”

Cynics might think McWilliams and Rasmussen were just tending their own interests. Not even remotely.

The SCV Economic Development Corporation is focused on the overall financial vibrancy of all of the SCV, and this proposed fee would snare single-family homeowners by about $500 a year, condo owners by $240 a year and commercial site owners by thousands. Proportionally, this proposed fee hammers all property owners and homeowners equally.

Readers may recall a couple of months back when most of us received nondescript, throw-away-looking form letters in the mail from an agency you’ve likely never heard of before.

Had you actually opened the throw-away-looking envelop from the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, you would have read about an inevitable-sounding fee to be assessed unless you and nearly everyone else improbably signed the “protest” (vote not to get taxed) form and sent it in.

The Water Mafia — otherwise known as county Flood Control — hatched a half-baked plan to “help” you and me comply with provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act.

The goal is to reduce pollutants and debris washed from our yards and streets into storm drains and rivers, and from there into the ocean. While the problem is real, in recent years counties and cities have already taken significant action and made great progress in combatting it.

Indeed, developers like Rasmussen and Newhall Land are already under very strict and well-enforced guidelines governing storm-water management, and they face punishing fees for infractions.

They know exactly what they are talking about, and they are absolutely correct in characterizing the “Clean Water, Clean Beaches” fee as duplicative con-job thievery playing on home and property owners’ aching wallets while promising nothing concrete in return.

How so?

The county has disclosed no detailed plans on how they intend to use the money. Rather, 10 percent of the proposed $280 million is slated for the county to consume in “oversight, education, regulation and support.” These are nice euphemisms for “bureaucracy and penalties.”

Ninety percent is purported to be sent back to local agencies and programs charged with cleaning up storm water, but only the vaguest concepts exist directing how the funds would be implemented. This is bureaucratese for “squandering taxpayer money.”

Public agencies will also be “fee’d up” and, in the case of schools, the county’s solution is humorous. Schools will be assessed, the county says, but they’ll get the money back in county-provided “services.” “The ordinance will include provisions to provide funding, in the same amount paid by each district, directly back to schools for curriculum and materials about water and water quality, classroom science teachers, and/or to implement school water quality projects,” the county’s website says.

Sure, our budgets will get hammered; we’ll lose control of our money and autonomy; but at least we’ll get “materials” on why we shouldn’t throw Slurpee cups down the storm drain.

The Water Mafia also obfuscates that isn’t another new tax, “A tax is a charge on an individual or business that pays for governmental services or facilities that benefit the public broadly, (while) a property-related fee can only be charged to property owners for providing a service directly related to that property,” the website says.

So the county non-tax tax gets extracted from you and me to fund a penalty program against us for owning land that God makes it to rain upon. If this sounds nuts as a basis for another fee or tax, it is.

A lucid person might ask why can’t you and I instead just abide by common-sense water and waste management guidelines that cost virtually nothing to promulgate to the populace.

So what can you do to stop this county water-torture? Between now and March 12, you must either dig up your nondescript county protest mailer or send in a new one from the website http://www.lacountycleanwater.org/documents/view/746.

So send in your protest form.  And don’t over-water your lawn, litter, or leak oil on the street.

You will have rightfully done your part for tax justice, clean water, and you can also sleep with a clean conscious.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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