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UPDATE: Supervisors send clean water fee back to drawing board

Posted: March 12, 2013 6:34 p.m.
Updated: March 12, 2013 6:34 p.m.

Speakers at Tuesday's meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are sworn in before addressing the board about the proposed "Clean Water, Clean Beaches" storm water cleanup fee. More than 100 speakers talked during the three-hour public hearing, which ended with supervisors voting to not move forward with the fee. Signal photo by...

LOS ANGELES — After years of planning, months of discussion, more than 2 million mailers, two public hearings and hundreds of public speakers, county supervisors Tuesday voted to send the proposal for a “Clean Water, Clean Beaches” storm water cleanup fee back to the drawing board.

However, the plan for what many have called just another property tax could be back for consideration in less than a year.

Members of the board voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a resolution by Supervisors Don Knabe and Gloria Molina that tables the proposed fee until some of the objections raised by property owners are addressed.

The motion instructs county representatives to work with businesses, school districts and others to try to work out some of the more common complaints with the fee, such as the lack of a “sunset clause” — a date when the fee would automatically end — and the lack of incentives for property owners who already have methods of reducing pollution on their land.

The motion also requires county officials to examine placing the proposed fee on a countywide ballot in 2014, either in the June or November elections.

“I am one of those that does not believe, as yet, that we are prepared to move this forward — for many reasons,” Molina said.

While supervisors voted not to proceed with the measure Tuesday, they could decide to take up the matter at a later date.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who has steadfastly opposed the fee, was the only supervisor to vote against the motion, saying water cleanup is a state matter and should be funded through state sources.

“Why is this water issue on the back of the local taxpayer?” Antonovich asked. “This is a state issue.”

Among the dozens of public speakers Tuesday were several Santa Clarita officials who came to oppose the fee.
Councilman TimBen Boydston, who quipped during the January public hearing on the fee that the county was looking to tax rain, offered a few more suggestions for future taxes — sunshine and air.

“We politicians would certainly have to pay the most,” said Boydston on a hypothetical air tax. “We generate the most hot air.”

The Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure would impose an annual fee on all county property owners based on several factors — including the size and pollution potential of their properties — to fund water cleanup efforts in the county.

Those fees would average $54 a year for single-family residential properties, $250 a year for a typical convenience store or fast-food restaurant, and $11,000 a year for a typical home improvement or “big box” retailer, according to estimates from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Some local property owners, however, have said their notices placed their proposed fees considerably higher than the county’s estimations.

Besides Boydston, two other Santa Clarita City Council members, Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean, opposed the county fee, noting Santa Clarita already has a storm water cleanup fee, which has been in place since the 1990s.

That shows the county’s proposed fee is unfairly applied to communities, they said.

“This is double taxation in its purest form,” McLean said.

Supervisors have the option of moving forward with a vote-by-mail election for county property owners or to place the fee on the ballot in a general county election, since the owners of a majority of property parcels in the county did not send in protests against the fee.

Sachi A. Hamai, the executive officer of the Board of Supervisors, said 118,531 protest forms were received out of the more than 2.2 million land parcels in Los Angeles County.

This means the county only received about 5.18 percent of all eligible protest forms from property owners.
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