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City Council Gets Earful on Parks Tax

Recreation: Scores of residents support bid to put proposal on ballot. Others decry assessment.


Hundreds of Los Angeles residents, from elementary school children to octogenarians, trekked to City Hall on Tuesday to add their two cents to the increasingly intense debate over a proposal to place a parks improvement tax on the November ballot.

At the first public hearing on the issue last month, a boisterous crowd--drawn mainly by outrage over notices of the proposed assessment that they had received in the mail--spent two hours at the podium railing against an ever-increasing tax burden and parks that are not safe enough to use.

But Tuesday's three-hour session offered a wider range of opinions, with scores of people--many invited by council members Mike Hernandez and Jackie Goldberg--supporting the $18-a-year tax as a last-ditch effort to save the city's parks.

"There's many parks where we live, but in many of them, there's gangs and drug dealers," said 11-year-old Christian Baires of Pico-Union, one of many youngsters who urged the council to place the question before voters.

"If you vote against sending this assessment to voters, you are voting against children, and that's the bottom line," said Willie Martinez, a youth worker. "This is about the haves against the have-nots. Either you deal with youth today and pay $20 or you will have to pay a much higher sum much later."

Rather than decide Tuesday whether to kill the proposal or send it to voters, the council asked its Arts, Health and Humanities Committee to redraft a list of projects that would be funded by the assessment. Expected to raise $25 million a year for three decades, the new tax would be used to acquire land or improve and maintain scores of parks across the city.

The citywide assessment would be one of at least four similar proposals on the ballot. The Los Angeles Community College District decided last week to send its $20-million-a-year tax, which would cost about $12 per homeowner, to voters. The Los Angeles Unified School District placed a tax on the ballot that would cost homeowners $75 a year. And the county is planning a parks improvement measure as well. Plus, there is a statewide initiative that would prevent local governments from passing such taxes with just a simple majority.

"It's not just an issue around children, it's an issue of what we want for our neighborhoods. In my neighborhood, we have a desperate need for more green, for more places for kids to play, for adults and senior citizens to go," said Goldberg, who lives in Echo Park.

"I don't see what's so terrifying about the notion that maybe, maybe we should invest in children and not just in prisons and police."

Though the majority of the 71 citizens who spoke to the council Tuesday said they supported the tax--or at least allowing voters to consider it in November--several homeowners echoed the overwhelming sentiments of last month's hearing: No more taxes.

"I am a property owner, and I am a mother with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Dorothy Kaiser of East Los Angeles told the council. "I am not against the parks, but I am for the money coming from somewhere else."

David Stephan suggested that if only property owners have to pay the tax, they alone should cast the votes on the matter and they alone should be permitted to use the improved facilities.

"We have a bottom line. We don't have a money tree," said Maria Balke, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. "We work, but we cannot pay taxes and taxes and taxes."

On the other side were several religious leaders, anti-gang activists, teenagers and some homeowners, mostly from Hollywood. Many agreed with anti-tax residents that the parks are too dangerous to use--but suggested that that could be remedied with the money raised through the assessment.

"I know it's not the popular political thing to do at this time," said Don Toy of Chinatown Teen Post. "But leadership is about vision. It's about finding solutions to our problems."

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