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It's Hard to Say No to Parks : Proposition 1 has the right goals, but it's the wrong time

May 26, 1991

The rapid urbanization of Los Angeles is putting the squeeze on city recreational and cultural facilities. Some are tired and worn. Others are inadequate to serve the city's burgeoning population. In good economic times, maintaining nice parks and community centers takes a good chunk of cash. Now, as the city faces a huge deficit, the Los Angeles City Council has asked the voters to raise the extra money to pay the rising costs. That request is in the form of Proposition 1 on the June 4 city ballot.

The proposition would authorize $298.8 million in general obligation bonds. The money would be used for senior-citizen centers, parks, recreational and cultural facilities and land for open space. The bond would cost Los Angeles city home owners an average $13.20 annually in property taxes for 20 years. To pass, the bond requires a two-thirds majority vote.

The trouble with Proposition 1 is that the City Council, in order to secure the widest backing, packed it with projects located in all 15 council districts. But many of them are no more than proposals, while others (such as the purchase of the Eagle Rock landmark from a private developer) raise serious questions of whether the council used any discretion at all in loading up this proposition like a Christmas tree. It would have been better to prioritize and concentrate on the city's acute recreational needs, especially when there's no guarantee that the bond issue will be adequate to finance all the proposed projects.

There's also the question of timing. Faced with a projected budget deficit of $177 million, city officials will have no choice but to seek new city taxes or raise fees to generate much needed revenue. Los Angeles city residents could get a double or even triple whammy should state taxes and fees go up to cover the $14.3-billion state deficit. Assuming that all projects proposed under the bond issue are completed, staffing of these facilities could add $1.65 million annually (at current rates) to the city's general fund. It is not clear whether the general fund can adequately handle this extra expense.

Given the city and state budget crunch, voters understandably will be reluctant to endorse one tax increase, not knowing what others may follow in short order. Enhancing city life is very desirable, but this time fiscal responsibility is more important. That's why voters should reject Proposition 1.

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