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Land Preservation Tax Challenged

Court: Lawsuit says that voters who approved the levy to buy undeveloped sites were misled.

September 24, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four property owners have sued the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, claiming they were misled and seeking to invalidate two tax districts created last month to buy and preserve undeveloped land.

The lawsuit, filed late Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that the regional park agency cannot legally tax property owners. The suit also claims that voters, who approved the measure by mail-in ballot, were duped into believing the new tax--$40 a year per single-family home--would be used to buy nearly 1,300 pieces of property and to clear brush.

Los Angeles residents of the Santa Monica Mountains voted overwhelmingly last month to tax themselves for the next 30 years to buy and preserve undeveloped land. After the vote, the authority created two tax districts that stretch from Griffith Park to Topanga State Park.

Attorney Rosemary D. Woodlock of Woodland Hills, who filed the suit on behalf of the property owners and opposition group BADTAX, accused the authority of fraud and misrepresentation in ballot information. The suit alleges that the ballot improperly listed $7 million needed to buy 1,500 acres, known as the Eastport or Tucker property, that the conservancy already owns. Woodlock said the authority led voters to believe the money would go to new purchases, not payment of a court-ordered judgment involving the purchase of the Eastport property.

The authority's executive officer, Joe Edmiston, disputed the allegations, saying the Eastport property, which abuts Topanga State Park, will be lost without funds from the tax districts.

Authority spokeswoman Dash Stolarz called the plaintiffs "an obstructionist group of people."

She said the conservation group would not create tax districts without proper authority and insisted that the ballot information was not misleading.

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