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Prop. A Proves Too Taxing on Island Where Most People Walk : Avalon Wants to Put the Boot to Transit Levy

April 19, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

In Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, feet are the primary mode of transportation, although some people drive golf carts or ride bicycles along the 6.8 miles of road in the 1-square-mile city.

Public transportation consists of about eight taxis and a city-subsidized dial-a-ride operation for the elderly and handicapped that also uses the cabs.

Yet since 1982, merchants in Avalon, as in all cities in Los Angeles County, have been collecting a half-cent sales tax to pay for countywide public transit service. Most of the money goes to the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

The Legislature is now on the verge of dismantling the RTD, and inasmuch as RTD buses have never crossed San Pedro Channel to serve Avalon, officials there are trying to get an exemption from the tax.

"It's taxation without service," said City Manager John Longley. "We're called upon to pay this additional tax and very little gets back to the island. We should at least get back what we collect."

Based on Population

The half-cent sales tax for transit, called Proposition A, was approved by county voters in 1980. Collection of the tax began in July, 1982. The money is administered by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, with 25% of the revenue returned to local jurisdictions, based on their population, for local transit programs.

Longley said nearly $160,000 in Proposition A money was collected last year in Avalon, but the city got back only 15% of that, about $24,000. The city has used its share for the dial-a-ride program and for a 1984 study to determine Avalon's public transit needs.

That study determined that the city needed bus service between the Cabrillo Mole--the passenger loading dock for commercial cross-channel carriers--and key locations in the downtown area. However, the service was never implemented because the city could not raise the $200,000 it would cost annually.

Longley said the city is willing to do without the $24,000 it gets back in Proposition A money if the exemption is granted.

Patricia Van Matre, who oversees local transit programs for the county Transportation Commission, said no cities in the county are exempt from the Proposition A tax. She said that in addition to Avalon, the RTD does not serve the northern part of the county, although there is a regional bus system operating there.

Consider Request

Transportation officials and state legislators contacted last week would not take a position on Avalon's exemption request, but they said they would consider it.

"Normally, I would say absolutely no to any city making such a request, but they are such a distinct community," said Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Jacki Bacharach, a member of the county Transportation Commission. "It's an idea worth considering."

Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), whom the city will ask to carry its request to the Senate, said he is sympathetic but needs more time to consider the request.

"They have a legitimate concern," Beverly said, "but I need to give it a good hard look."

Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), who wrote the legislation in the Senate for the RTD reorganization, could not be reached for comment. His bill is in the Appropriations Committee.

On April 6 the Assembly voted 65-0 to approve similar legislation to give a reorganized county Transportation Commission wider authority over bus and rail lines and highways in Los Angeles County.

Other Considerations Told

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), the author of the Assembly bill, could not be reached for comment. John Stevens, senior consultant for the Assembly Transportation Committee, which Katz chairs, said the effect of an Avalon exemption on Proposition A revenues would have to be determined, as well as the reaction of other cities.

Under both bills, the reconstituted agency would be run by a board consisting of the five Los Angeles County supervisors; the mayor of Los Angeles; two members of the Los Angeles City Council, including one from the San Fernando Valley; a Long Beach City Council representative; two representatives of smaller cities in the county, and non-voting members from Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Under the proposed legislation, small cities--such as Torrance and Gardena--with their own bus lines would continue to receive the same subsidy from the half-cent tax.

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