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South Bay Chambers Oppose Proposed Clean Water Tax

One side says the mailer was made to look like junk mail to move the measure forward; the other say that's not the case. Large commercial property owners could pay thousands of dollars.

Chambers of commerce in the South Bay are urging property owners to send written protests on a proposed Los Angeles County fee to pay for clean water programs.

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.

“Just on the heels of the passage of higher taxes with Prop. 30 and possible tax hikes coming out of Congress soon, it is disappointing that the county could try to raise taxes even more without the benefit of full public dialogue on the matter,” Patricia Donaldson, board chair of the South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce, said in a statement. 

Unless more than 10 percent of property owners object in writing to the parcel tax proposal before Jan. 15, a ballot will be mailed to owners. If a majority of returned ballots are in favor of the measure, the fee would be charged. 

"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."

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 Wednesday. "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.

“Good public policy occurs when stakeholders are engaged. In this case it appears to SBACC that the county was hoping that the protest ballots would get overlooked by property owners during the busy holiday season—the county should be engaging property owners not hiding from them,” Donaldson said.

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.

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