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Developers Used Illegal Tactic, Backer of Tax for Schools Says

May 31, 1987|MAYERENE BARKER | Times Staff Writer

The leader of the campaign favoring six measures on Tuesday's ballot that propose taxing builders to pay for school construction in the fast-growing Santa Clarita Valley said Saturday that she plans to charge a developer-backed group opposing the taxes with illegal campaign tactics.

Rita R. Garasi, chairwoman of Santa Clarita Valley Taxpayers for Responsible Growth, said she would file a complaint with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office Monday, charging that a mailer sent by the group and received Friday by most voters violated county and state Election Code.

The mailer was illegal because the developers failed to file proper financial disclosure documents with county and state election officials, Garasi said.

"This shows that developers will go to any lengths, including breaking the law, to force their will on this community," she said.

Representatives of the developers could not be reached for comment.

The tax measures, Propositions A through F, are on the ballot in the Castaic, Newhall, Saugus, Sulphur Springs and William S. Hart school districts. If approved by two-thirds of the voters, the propositions would cost developers millions of dollars--about $6,000 for each home they build--to pay for schools.

Because of rapid housing construction, the Santa Clarita Valley's student population is expected to double to more than 40,000 by the year 2000. And school administrators say they need to be assured that there will be about $300 million to build at least 25 schools within the next 20 years for the predicted influx of students.

Similar tax measures on the ballot in November narrowly failed to pass, garnering an average of 61% of the vote.

Garasi said she informed a member of the district attorney's staff Friday of her intention to file the charge against Citizens for State Supported Schools, which sent the mailer.

The group, formerly known as Santa Clarita Citizens for Unfair Taxes, spent $270,000 on several mailings to defeat the tax measures in November.

A spokeswoman for the county registrar's office said the group filed a name change in March. But, she said, the new organization had failed as of 5 p.m. Friday to inform that office or the secretary of state that it intended to spend more than $1,000 opposing the ballot measures, as required by the state Election Code.

Garasi estimated that the developers group spent at least $6,000 on the mailing.

The mailers, in plain white envelopes and under the letterhead of Citizens for State Supported Schools, were unsigned. They were sent from 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 807, Los Angeles, the address of Alma Fitch and Associates, a consulting firm for developers.

Employees of the firm acknowledged Friday that the address on the mailer was the headquarters for the developers group but refused to comment on who financed the mailer.

Richard Wirth, an official with the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, said last week that his organization was mailing a "letter explaining the school-tax issue" to Santa Clarita Valley voters Wednesday or Thursday.

Called Precedent-Setting

He said that, if the Santa Clarita tax measures succeed, they could set a precedent for other school districts in the state. Wirth was out of town and unavailable for comment Friday and Saturday.

Last month, the builders association and the California Building Industry Assn. unsuccessfully attempted to block the tax election by filing a civil lawsuit maintaining that the election was illegal.

Max Halfon, attorney for the two groups, said that, under state law, school districts do not have independent authority to pass special taxes. He also maintained that a statewide school financing plan approved by voters last year set a maximum of $1.50 a square foot on charges that school districts can impose on housing developers.

The Santa Clarita Valley districts already are collecting that tax, Halfon said.

Terry Dixon, attorney for the school districts, said the state financing plan, which went into effect Jan. 1, did not preclude districts from levying more taxes to build schools. The 1978 Proposition 13 tax-reform measure authorized school districts and other taxing agencies to impose taxes for special purposes if approved by two-thirds of the voters, he said.

The lawsuit went as far as the state Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Halfon said the developers groups will return to court to attempt to have the tax election declared invalid if the measures are successful.

Developers claim that the tax is unfair and will be passed on to home buyers. The latest mailer says the tax "overwhelmingly favors the wealthy and places the burden of financing school construction on low- and middle-income home buyers. A purchaser of a $250,000 home will pay about $6,000 in school taxes, while the buyer of a $90,000 home will pay the same $6,000 in school taxes. Is this fair?"

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