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Property Owners Face Clean Water Tax

A tax increase to pay for clean water programs has been proposed for property owners in Los Angeles County. The Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure mailer includes a form for objecting to the idea.

A Los Angeles County supervisor Tuesday urged people to learn about a proposed fee to pay for clean water programs.

"This is a tax increase proposal," Supervisor Michael Antonovich said, warning that a recent mailing about the fee looks like junk mail. "Don't
throw it away."

The notice of the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure tells property owners how much each would pay annually and includes a form for objecting to the idea.

A typical single-family homeowner would pay about $54 on average and condominium owners $20 or less, according to Phil Doudar, project manager for the initiative. About 90 percent of parcel owners would likely pay less than $100, though large commercial property owners could pay thousands of dollars.

If approved, property owners would be charged an annual fee to cover costs associated with improving water quality and reducing pollution from urban runoff.

Department of Public Works Director Gail Farber warned earlier this year that county waterways are choked with trash, infection-causing bacteria, toxic chemicals, lead, copper and other metals, oil and grease.

As proposed, the measure would raise about $276 million annually to be split between Los Angeles County's Flood Control District, nine watershed areas set up to manage clean-up projects and the rest of the cities that make up the county.

The Flood Control District spent an estimated $340 million to control pollutants in fiscal year 2010-11, according to Farber, who has estimated the cost of complying with existing water-quality regulations to be in the billions of dollars.

But Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe objected to what they called a tax on residents, saying funding should come from the federal or state government.

Antonovich and Knabe voted against the proposal in July, arguing that it should be put to voters in a future election rather than to property owners via a mail-in ballot.

"It really is disingenuous," Knabe said today. "Clearly the intent of this piece of mail is to look like junk mail."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who backs the measure -- the result of years of consensus building between municipalities and environmentalists -- disagreed, saying it looks much like rate increase notices from local
utilities.

The notice is just the first step in the approval process. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 15 during the board's regular weekly meeting at 9:30 a.m.

If a majority of property owners protest the fee in writing before the end of that meeting, the fee will not be imposed. If a majority do not object, a ballot would be mailed to property owners. And if a majority of ballots returned are in favor of the measure, the fee would be charged.

More information is available at www.lacountycleanwater.org.

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