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Valleywide Focus

Ventura Blvd. Landowners Appeal City Fees

September 08, 1993|SCOTT GLOVER

Dozens of Ventura Boulevard property owners began fighting millions of dollars in city fees Tuesday, when the City Council opened appeal hearings on the levies--which were meant to help pay to overhaul the historic thoroughfare.

Over the next few weeks, the council's Planning and Land Use committee will consider the cases of 42 property owners arguing that so-called trip fees, levied against them based on traffic their buildings are expected to generate on Ventura Boulevard, are excessive and unfair.

Councilman Hal Bernson, who chairs the committee, said the fees are important to help pay for traffic improvements on the boulevard and to offset the effects of development, but acknowledged that some mistakes were made in calculating them. "Most (people) today had legitimate gripes," Bernson said after the first round of appeals. "And we want to be fair. The real question here is one of equity and fairness."

But any reduction in the fees, which range roughly between $2,000 and $800,000, must be approved by a vote of the full City Council.

Each of the property owners had earlier agreed to pay fees in exchange for building permits while details of the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan were being developed. However, many now say they would not have done so if they had known how much the fees would be.

"This is unfair because there was no indication that the amount would be so excessive," said Rabbi Jerry M. Danzig, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom temple in Encino. "It's not fair to say, 'by the way, there's going to be a little tax,' and then hit somebody with this giant bill."

Danzig is fighting the $177,000 the temple was assessed for adding a day-care center, classrooms, meeting rooms and other facilities to its building at 15739 Ventura Blvd. The temple's case is tentatively scheduled to be heard Sept. 21.

Attorney Fred Gaines, who represents the temple, said he will argue that it should be exempted from the fees.

Gaines, who represents clients seeking a combined $3.8 million in relief from the fees, argues that exemptions from the fees are allowed when the development in question will benefit the public. He argued that the temple's additions fulfilled that requirement.

"This is a case in which the city has failed to follow its own ordinance," said Gaines. Gaines also contends that the fees unfairly charge developers for traffic that existed before they built and that, in some cases, the rules of the assessment program were unfairly changed after development planning had begun.

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