Commercial and residential property owners could get dinged with a new parcel tax that will appear on the November ballot.
During its July 17 meeting, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to place the Safe, Clean Water Program funding measure on the ballot. The measure would “impose a special tax upon parcels located within the County Flood Control District to fund projects and programs to increase stormwater capture and reduce stormwater and urban runoff pollution,” according to the agenda item.
If passed, property owners’ annual property tax bill would include a 2.5-cent tax for each square foot of nonpermeable space, such as roofs, driveways and patios, which do not allow water to enter the earth, and creates runoff. The tax would generate approximately $300 million annually for the construction, operation and maintenance of these stormwater projects, according to the Los Angeles County Public Works Department.
“Unlike projects involving drinking water or sanitary sewer systems, which are funded by dedicated utility fees, the types of projects that would be funded by the . . . tax do not currently have a reliable, dedicated funding source,” an L.A. public works spokesperson told the Business Journal in an e-mail. “Because there is no dedicated funding mechanism to construct these projects, many cities and the county must use their general fund and/or rely on ad hoc sources of funding such as local and state bond measure funds or cost-sharing agreements to leverage funds with other agencies. A small number of cities have adopted a dedicated tax or fee for stormwater projects.”
Typical infrastructure projects could include infiltration galleries, treatment wetlands, green streets and diversions into the sanitary sewer, according to L.A. public works. The funds would enhance communities by presenting new opportunities to provide new and renovated parks, open space and recreational facilities, the department added.
Government- and nonprofit-owned properties would be exempt from the tax, including churches and Long Beach’s more than 90 schools. The proposed measure also includes numerous credits and incentives, such as a credit for owners who make qualifying improvements to their properties.
Approximately $30 million would be distributed to the district for the implementation and administration of projects; $120 million would be allocated to the cities, including unincorporated areas; and the remaining $150 million would be allocated to the county’s nine watershed areas. Funds would be distributed to cities and watershed areas proportionally to the amount of parcel tax dollars each generated. Estimated at $4.86 million by L.A. public works, Long Beach would receive the second-most funding, behind the City of Los Angeles, which would receive $37.99 million. The county’s unincorporated areas would receive $12.55 million combined.
Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach, voted in favor of the measure. In a July 20 e-mail, Hahn told the Business Journal she supported the measure because it is “critically important” to the county’s 88 cities, due to the fact that water management poses a “huge” problem for the future of the county. She explained that each city is required by law to build projects to capture and clean storm water but often lack the monies in their general funds.
“The truth of the matter is, if this measure ultimately fails, we could see our cities pursue their own tax increases because they need to find this funding somehow,” Hahn said. “If it were to rain today most of the rainwater wouldn’t replenish our underground aquifers nor would it be captured and turned into tap water. Instead, it would flow into a storm drain, down a channel, and make its way to the Pacific Ocean – picking up tons of trash and pollutants and growing more toxic by the mile.”
Beach cities such as Long Beach are “bearing the brunt of outdated water infrastructure,” often having to close beaches after a big storm due to unhealthy levels of contaminants, Hahn said. The projects funded by the new tax would keep beaches clean and safe, while also replenishing the county’s water supply, she added.
Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents cities in the San Gabriel, San Fernando, Crescenta, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, was the lone dissenting vote. In a prepared statement following the vote, Barger said the Flood Control District already does a “remarkable job” with stormwater, capturing 90% of runoff from waterways in the Upper San Gabriel Valley watershed.
“While clean water and recycling/capturing efforts are important, the county needs to step back and reevaluate funding priorities, especially considering a recent increase in public health fees, a new business registration fee, the County Library’s structural deficit – as well as a potential ballot measure requested by the Fire Department to address its structural deficit,” Barger’s statement reads. “The proposed initiative far exceeds the requirements of the MS4 permit, which governs pollutant levels in local waterways. The permit is based on assumptions that are antiquated and require updating before we go to the taxpayers for more money.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is reviewing the measure and has yet to take a formal position, according to Veronica Quezada, the mayor’s communications deputy. According to the Long Beach Public Works Department, no Measure A monies, or any other fund approved by the city’s residents, fund water infrastructure projects like those the new measure is meant to fund.
Long Beach Commercial Real Estate Council President Adam Carrillo told the Business Journal that the council opposes the measure. He noted that, since it will be placed on the ballot, the council hopes sunset and audit clauses are added. A sunset clause would establish a date on which the tax would either end or be reduced, while an audit clause would assure taxpayers that the funds are being used appropriately, he explained.
“It would be a safe assumption that, if there are increased property tax fees, those fees will be passed down to the business owners and small business owners,” Carrillo said. “We oppose it as it’s currently drafted and I think there’s a lot of room for additional conversation. Our members and commercial property owners want to be active in this discussion as it moves forward.”