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Trustees May Let Voters Decide on District Tax

Education: L.A. Community College officials retreat on levy plan that drew widespread protests.

July 04, 1996|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Apparently reversing course, Los Angeles Community College District trustees signaled their readiness Wednesday to delay a controversial districtwide tax plan for at least a year and place the issue before voters in November.

Faced with a looming recall drive, district officials announced that the trustees will hold a special meeting Friday to consider placing the tax measure on the ballot. Several trustees said the board majority has now shifted in favor of holding an election. The board's critics had accused the trustees of finding a legal way to evade the election requirements imposed by Proposition 13 on other tax increases.

"I'm optimistic the board will respond to honor the public's wishes," said Trustee Althea Baker, whose shift in favor of submitting the issue to the voters helped clear the way for the meeting.

"I think the public made a very strong case for putting it to a vote."

The board, which governs the nine-campus, 97,000-student college district, sparked protests by voting 4 to 3 last month to begin levying an annual tax this November on 1 million properties in the county, including a $12 annual assessment on single-family homes.

The board majority, including Baker, chose to collect the money by creating a landscaping and lighting assessment district. Under state law, the levies imposed by such districts do not require voters approval.

Just last week, a motion by some college trustees for a special meeting to discuss holding an election died on a 3-3 deadlock, with Baker not voting. But with Wednesday looming as the last day to call such a meeting, Baker relented--possibly joined by another trustee, sources said.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Baker said she had been leaning toward favoring an election for some time but still had not reached a decision. But that changed by Wednesday evening, with Baker saying that she intended to vote Friday to let voters decide on the tax.

If board members vote as expected Friday to schedule an election, that would delay imposition of the tax that had been set to begin in November. If a majority of district voters reject the tax, it will be dead. If voters approve it, the first payments would be due in November 1997.

The district covers an 882-square-mile area of Los Angeles County from Sylmar to San Pedro, including all of the city of Los Angeles and some surrounding communities. The proposed tax would run for an estimated 20 years and fund about $205 million of college lighting, landscaping and recreational projects.

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