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Reaction Mixed to Park Tax

Hearings: Owners of hillside properties speak out on a proposed levy to fund land purchases in the Santa Monicas.

July 18, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plan to increase parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains by taxing 40,000 to 50,000 hillside property owners in Los Angeles drew mixed reaction at two public meetings Wednesday.

"It appears that we are being taxed to give private property to the government," resident Gloria Fisher told park officials at an afternoon informational hearing attended by about 120 people at Bel Air Presbyterian Church on Mulholland Drive.

Others, however, said they see the tax as a rare opportunity to spend a small amount of money to preserve the tranquillity of mountain properties in Los Angeles.

"A lot of us moved here for the quality of life," Wendy-Sue Rosen said on behalf of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Assn. of homeowners. "What else is there in this age of gridlock and overdevelopment?"

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a regional park agency that owns about 35,000 acres of Santa Monica Mountains wilderness, wants to tax each single-family home in the proposed area about $40 a year and use the funds to buy open space, protect wildlife and clear brush for fire protection. Businesses would pay about $120 per acre, and apartment building owners would be assessed on a sliding scale.

The tax will be imposed if a simple majority of property owners approve it. The votes are weighted, based on the amount of assessment that would be paid.

Mail-in ballots, which have already been sent out, are due to the park agency by Aug. 14 or may be hand-delivered at a public hearing to be held that day. The results will be announced on Aug. 21.

Several residents voiced suspicion that the money would not be spent properly.

"I can assure you that the plan for Mulholland will include a lot of lights, water and parking lots," said Sue Nelson, a member of Friends of the Santa Monica Mountains. "I'm just very upset over the kind of spin that's being put on this."

Outside the meeting, Jerry Daniel, board chairman of the park agency, disputed Nelson's prediction. "There's not going to be swings and ball fields. It's going to be left natural," he said.

The tax would generate each year about $2 million, which the park agency would combine with matching funds from the state and other sources to buy undeveloped properties in the taxed area.

An evening public meeting, attended by close to 100 people, was held at the Franklin Canyon Park nature center.

Privately owned open space in the mountains is under constant development pressure, Daniel said.

His agency has proposed two tax districts that would straddle the Santa Monica Mountains. The combined tax area would stretch from Topanga Canyon Boulevard east to the Golden State Freeway and from Ventura Boulevard south to Sunset Boulevard.

Two districts are needed to ensure that the proceeds would be spent on land near the homes paying the tax, officials said.

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