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Court Considers City's Appeal of View Tax Reimbursement

September 11, 1997|NICK GREEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PORT HUENEME — Attorneys on Wednesday slammed as "arbitrary and capricious" a so-called view tax that in 1991 brought Port Hueneme national notoriety.

In response, in the case before the state Court of Appeal, attorneys representing the city continued to defend the assessment levied on residents living near its beachfront park.

After Wednesday's session, the three-judge panel is expected to take about a month to decide whether to uphold a ruling last year that ordered the city to reimburse 1,252 oceanfront property owners $600,000--plus 10% interest that accrues until the case is resolved--as well as $265,000 in legal fees.

The city appealed that ruling, partly because the hefty judgment could have serious financial implications for a community that constantly struggles to pay for such basic services as police, municipal officials said.

The assessment on residents near Hueneme Beach Park was levied, in part, because city officials reasoned that property values benefited from proximity to the park. Thus, city officials said, those near the park should pay one-third of its $450,000 annual maintenance cost. Since the assessment varied depending on residents' park view, the fees were dubbed a view tax by the media.

Residents sued the city and won when a judge said the assessment amounted to an illegal tax.

The city then appealed. If it loses, the financially strapped bedroom community would owe residents and their attorneys more than $1 million.

"If there ever was an arbitrary and capricious assessment in the state of California, this was it," the residents' attorney, Glen Reiser of Oxnard, told the panel, adding that the city never conducted a study as an objective basis for the assessment. "It's based solely on fiscal need and guesswork."

Attorney Harold Bridges, representing the city, conceded in court that the city simply relied on the opinion of a civil engineer rather than conduct its own study. But the City Council had the authority to levy the assessment, he maintained.

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