Hermosa Beach voters will decide on five ballot initiatives Tuesday, including proposed tax increases and measures aimed at preserving open space.
In recent years, residents have overwhelmingly voted to preserve open space in the densely populated, 1.3-square-mile city, but have refused to approve measures to pay for it.
Three years ago, voters called for purchasing the abandoned Santa Fe Railway right of way that bisects the community, but that measure was only advisory. On Tuesday, voters will be asked whether the city should buy the 100-foot-wide strip. Officials say, however, that the purchase may be impossible unless voters also agree to tax themselves to pay for it.
"Development of the Santa Fe Railroad Right of Way would forever remove a valuable and precious resource unique to this community, already burdened with overpopulation, overdevelopment and traffic congestion," according to the ballot argument in support of the initiative. The statement was signed by five residents, including Mayor John Cioffi and Rosamond Fogg, chairman of the Open Space People's Action Committee, which proposed the initiative.
Known as Proposition J, the initiative would mandate that the city purchase the 20 acres for open space and park land, using "its best efforts to raise funds needed for acquisition."
The City Council voted 3 to 2 to put the measure on the ballot. In voting no, council members June Williams and Jim Rosenberger said they already knew that residents wanted the land preserved.
In a separate initiative, the council is asking voters to raise the utility users' tax to 10% from 6% to help pay for the right of way. That measure, if approved, would take effect only if the land purchase proposal also is approved.
The tax increase, known as Proposition K, would cost about $6 to $7 a month for the average utility customer, according to a ballot argument supporting the proposition.
Because City Council members wanted to improve the chances of getting the tax measure approved, they decided to put the proposed increase on the ballot as a general tax, which requires only 50% of the votes plus one to become law.
Revenues received from general taxes cannot be earmarked for a specific purpose, and the money would go into the city's general fund and could be used at the council's discretion. A "special tax" requiring the money to be used for the land purchase would have needed a two-thirds majority for passage.
Council members, who voted unanimously to put the tax measure on the ballot, as well as all the council candidates said they would use the estimated $666,000 the tax would generate each year to purchase the right of way. The initiative was proposed by Councilman Tony DeBellis, who is running for reelection.
The current 6% tax helps pay for police protection and sewer replacement, according to City Atty. James P. Lough's ballot analysis.
Surplus School Sites
In another attempt to raise funds to buy the right of way and other open space, the City Council voted 4 to 0 to place an initiative--Proposition L--on Tuesday's ballot that would require that all funds the city receives from the handful of oil-drilling operations in the city be put in the park and recreation facilities fund. This would not include business license fees or any money regulated by the State Lands Commission.
The money would be used for acquiring, maintaining or improving surplus school sites or other properties available for open space and park land if approved by a majority of voters. The amount of money that measure would generate could not be determined.
The measure was proposed by City Council candidate Roger Creighton, city treasurer candidate Gary Brutsch and resident James Weiss.
But even if both tax propositions are passed, they will not raise enough money to buy the right of way. The open-space initiative states that a bond issue, which voters would have to approve separately, would be a last-resort method to raise funds.
Voters also will decide on a special business-tax classification for movie theaters.
If approved by a majority, movie theaters would be taxed $100 for their first $20,000 of gross receipts and $1.50 for each additional $1,000.
Cinemas now pay $250 a year for a business license, as do theaters that stage live performances. Live theaters would not be affected by the measure.
The City Council voted 4 to 1 to put the initiative on the ballot as Proposition N. Council members Jim Rosenberger, June Williams and Etta Simpson said in a ballot argument supporting the tax: "It was determined that film theaters generate higher traffic levels and thus impact city traffic and streets more. This distinction, we feel, justifies a separate business tax classification."
The increase would generate about $5,500 a year and would add less than one cent to a movie ticket, according to the ballot argument.
The Bijou Twin Theatres, which has two screens, is the city's only movie theater. A six-screen movie theater is planned for a shopping center under construction at Pacific Coast Highway and 16th Street.
DeBellis said he voted against putting the initiative on the ballot because he was afraid it would force the Bijou out of business.
The last initiative--Proposition M--would limit building heights for new office and commercial developments to current height levels unless voters approve a change in the zoning code. The maximum heights allowed are 35 feet for office buildings, 30 feet for buildings in C-1 zones, 35 feet in C-2 zones and 45 feet in C-3 zones. A simple majority vote is required.
Lough wrote in his analysis of the initiative that the City Council still could give property owners "with a unique hardship" a variance to the height limits and could change the boundaries of the zones.