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Financial Analysis Finds Valley Taxes Don't Translate to Services

Secession: Report states residents north of Mulholland Drive pay $68 million more to city than they get back.

April 01, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Margaret Guyer didn't need to read the latest 380-page study of city services in the San Fernando Valley to know what it found--that her Sylmar neighborhood and the rest of the Valley's residents are not getting services to match the taxes they pay.

Guyer has firsthand experience in trying unsuccessfully to get the city to pick up stray dogs, remove abandoned cars and fix cracked sidewalks to confirm what page after page of the financial report found.

"I don't think I'm getting my fair share of services," said the retired technician. "Every time we have called the dog pound or the tree trimmers or the street repair people, they put us off."

Guyer was not surprised that the most comprehensive financial analysis ever done on Los Angeles found that the San Fernando Valley pays $68 million more in taxes than it receives back in the form of city services. The report was released last week by the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a member of the secession group Valley VOTE, said the financial analysis conducted as part of the Valley cityhood study backs with facts the complaints that Valley residents have felt for years.

"What the study does is [it] puts data behind all the little anecdotes we have heard over the years about the Valley not getting its fair share," Katz said.

But many Los Angeles leaders said the numbers and charts paint an incomplete picture of the distribution of city resources.

The raw figures miss the point, they contend. City Hall often distributes resources not based on the source of revenue, or on population, but instead bases services on need, they said.

"If it's a question of fixing potholes, you fix them where that is needed," said Venice-area Councilwoman Ruth Galanter.

The councilwoman is one of the most outspoken critics of the Valley cityhood movement, which triggered the financial study by collecting the signatures of 25% of Valley voters.

The study found Wednesday that a Valley city would be financially viable, and even operate with a surplus, after paying Los Angeles $68 million in "alimony" each year to cover the amount of revenue that would be lost if a break occurred.

"This shows how the San Fernando Valley has been shortchanged, especially the northeast Valley," said Councilman Alex Padilla of Pacoima.

Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close and Councilman Hal Bernson of Granada Hills both pointed to the report's findings on police services to prove their complaint.

The report found that 24.7% of the LAPD's employees currently provide services to the Valley, and 27.5% of employees with field assignments work in the Valley Bureau.

"I have often felt in the past that the Valley is not getting its fair share," Bernson said. "The report showed that with the police alone. We have 24% of the police officers in an area that is nearly 50% of the city."

Residents, including Guyer, have sensed that for years. She lives in the LAPD's Foothill Division, which has the longest average emergency response time in the city, 10 1/2 minutes.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents part of the Valley, said police deployment cannot just be based on where the taxes are generated or where people live.

"Public policy does not dictate that every tax dollar is divided up by population," he said. "It's divided by need. Historically, crime problems in other parts of the city have been much more intense."

LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, who heads the Valley Bureau, said he sympathizes with Valley residents who want more police officers. At any time, there are only 150 to 200 officers patrolling the Valley, with a population of 1.3 million.

Bergmann said the deployment formula is fair when considering the city as a whole, but the results might be different if the Valley were a separate city.

In another area, the study concluded that the Valley generates 46% of animal license fees in the city--the largest source for the animal services budget and one gauge of the Valley's entitlement to services--but has 33% of the shelters and about 36% of the Animal Regulation Department staff.

Another finding: A Valley city would be entitled to about 35.5% of the special sales tax funds that pay for the DASH shuttle bus system in Los Angeles, but only two of the 27 Dash routes were in the Valley--about 7% of the routes--according to the 1998-99 budget used by the study. Since then, Valley routes have increased to four, but service still lags in percentage terms from the taxes generated in the Valley.

"It is symptomatic of the fact that given the choice between the needs of the Valley and other needs, the downtown political establishment has always chosen other needs," said Katz, who formerly chaired the Assembly Transportation Committee.

City Transportation Department manager Tom Chang noted that there is a high concentration of businesses and jobs downtown, therefore the six DASH lines in the central city are meeting the greatest need.

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