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Hundreds Protest College Tax Proposal

May 30, 1996|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — A standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of angry residents turned out at a public hearing Wednesday night to protest a plan by the Los Angeles Community College District to levy an annual tax on about 1 million properties in the county.

The proposal, which would cost homeowners $12 a year and varying amounts for owners of other types of property, drew angry shouts and criticism from the overflow crowd at Valley College during the district's first formal public hearing on the proposal.

The Los Angeles district includes the entire city of Los Angeles and much of the San Fernando Valley, although it excludes areas such as Glendale that have their own community college districts. The Los Angeles district includes about 45% of the county's 2.24 million land parcels.

District officials maintain they need the tax revenue to support plans for $205 million worth of mostly outdoor projects to spruce up the largely dilapidated nine-campus district. But critics called the plan an attempt to evade California's Proposition 13 tax limitation law, passed by the voters in 1978.

One of the most controversial aspects of the proposal is that the district's seven-member Board of Trustees, using a little-known state law, is proposing to enact the parcel tax starting later this year without holding any type of election among district voters.

The Los Angeles district, after the Kern Community College District, would become only the second community college district in the state to create a so-called landscape and lighting assessment district to fund various recreational facilities and parking, lighting and landscaping projects.

Under the proposal, West Los Angeles College would get the largest allocation of the money brought in by the tax, about $30 million, followed by Pierce College in Woodland Hills at $29.7 million. Valley College in Van Nuys is slated for $27.9 million. And Mission College in Sylmar would get $11.7 million, the smallest share.

The proposal would raise about $21 million a year in tax revenues districtwide, and about $18 million of that would go to pay the debt service on bonds that would fund the improvement projects. The remaining $3.6 million in annual revenue would go to help maintain the facilities.

District officials reported they have been flooded with more than 2,700 phone calls and received about 5,000 protest letters since mailing notice of the proposal to every property owner in the district in the recent weeks. But from 300,000 to 500,000 property owners would have to file formal protests to legally block the plan, an unlikely prospect.

So the ultimate fate of the proposal probably rests with the district's board, which has been narrowly divided in favor of the tax. The turnout at Wednesday's hearing, with another scheduled for June 12 at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, is likely to put pressure on the board to relent.

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