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Council Waives Ventura Keys Dredging Tax

June 11, 1996|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Despite a recent court ruling allowing the city to continue making Ventura Keys homeowners pay to dredge their waterways, the City Council decided Monday that the amount homeowners are asked to pay is unfair and agreed to waive this year's annual levy.

The council also directed city staff to bring back information on how to reduce the cost of dredging. City engineers have estimated that the next dredging, scheduled for 1999, will cost $3.6 million, but a outside expert has suggested that it can be done more cheaply.

In voting to waive the tax, the council majority sided with frustrated homeowners who argued that it was wrong to charge them about $2,000 apiece annually to dredge silt from their backyard waterways.

After a lengthy public hearing, the council voted against continuing the assessment for next year. Council members Steve Bennett and Gary Tuttle voted to continue the assessment.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 12, 1996 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 6 No Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Ventura Keys--An article Tuesday incorrectly reported the Ventura City Council's vote on whether to waive next year's annual assessment on Ventura Keys homeowners. The vote was 4 to 3 in favor of lifting the assessment, with Councilman Ray Di Guilio joining Steve Bennett and Gary Tuttle in dissent.

City officials who supported the assessment said the policy of charging Keys homeowners for the biennial dredging is fair, since they derive the greatest benefit from the cleanup.

And a court agreed. In a 40-page decision, Kern County Judge Stanley P. Chapin ruled the channels are in essence the "backyards" of the homeowners and therefore they receive a special benefit from the dredging.

But some members of the City Council sided with the residents, saying the city was charging them too much.

"I believe that we are not here voting on the legality of this assessment, but on what is right and wrong," Councilman Jim Friedman said.

Before the meeting, Friedman said he would like to see the entire financing arrangement for the dredging reviewed. Currently, residents have been paying 75% of the dredging costs and the city 25%.

"This problem has been going on far too long, and the city and the Keys people really need to come to terms," Friedman said. "This whole controversy is a horrible litigious mess."

But Bennett and Tuttle said that to lift the levy on the Keys homeowners would mean that residents citywide may have to pay for public improvements that only benefit a few hundred Ventura residents.

"This issue is real simple," Bennett said. "It is: Do we protect the city of Ventura's interest or do we protect a small group of very vocal special interests?"

Keys residents have fought the city for years over who should pay for removing silt and other debris that accumulates in the channels behind their homes.

The assessment district was created in 1991 to help pay for the biennial dredging. At that time, city officials decided that the homeowners should pay three-quarters of the dredging costs.

But Keys residents argue that the waterways are comparable to city streets and should be maintained predominantly by the city.

The residents also argue that the city's more than $3-million estimate for the dredging project is inflated.

They contend that other agencies such as the county should share in the costs.

Keys residents have filed three lawsuits against the city over the assessment.

In April, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor the city. The homeowners have since appealed the decision.

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