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Taxes and bonds top local ballots

Many cities and school districts, hit hard by the recession, will ask voters Tuesday to approve new spending.

November 02, 2009|Jean Merl and Ann M. Simmons

Across Southern California, recession-pinched cities and school districts are asking their voters for help in Tuesday's local elections.

Besides choosing from among scores of candidates for city councils, school boards and other local agencies, voters will decide on a slew of ballot questions, many of which involve money.

With the state mired in its own budget problems and the effects of recession gripping California, local governments and school districts "are on their own" if they need more money, said Dan Carrigg, legislative director for the League of California Cities.

"Cities have been doing the best they can," Carrigg said, "but there are a lot of needs out there for infrastructure and services, and it looks like, for the next few years at least, we can't expect much assistance from the state."

Unlike the state Legislature, local governments generally cannot raise taxes without voters' permission. So measures seeking approval of parcel taxes or school bonds, increases in the sales tax or the updating and continuation of utility or communications taxes have become ballot staples in virtually every election cycle.

On Tuesday, voters in the Oxnard School District will be asked for a $99 tax on each property, to be collected annually for four years, to stave off program cuts and avoid teacher layoffs. Culver City and Long Beach unified school districts are seeking annual five-year parcel taxes of $96 and $92, respectively, also to spare schools from the budget ax. Such taxes require approval from two-thirds of participating voters.

Voters will be asked to approve hotel tax measures in the cities of Artesia, Banning, Blythe, Norco and Rancho Palos Verdes. South Pasadena wants to extend its library tax, and the city of Ventura is asking for a half-cent hike in the sales tax for four years to help pay for police, roads and libraries.

Other cities -- including Coachella, Huntington Park, Palm Springs and Pomona -- are hoping for permission to update and retain their utility-users or communications taxes. And Redondo Beach is asking voters to remove an exemption for a corporation-owned electricity-generating plant.

The city of Palmdale is pitching a proposed new city charter as its ticket to a more secure financial future, in part by giving officials more flexibility in contracting for projects and services.

"It doesn't cost us much," Palmdale City Manager Steve Williams said about the proposal to have the city operate under its own charter instead of municipal rules spelled out by the state, "but it gets us some benefits in determining our destiny."

"We see the charter as providing a lot of small opportunities to either save money or generate money," Williams added.

The measure, which requires a simple majority vote to pass, had initially concerned some unions, who suspected it could be a tool for lowering pay and benefits or for making it easier to privately contract for work traditionally done by public employees. But backers of the measure say it also provides leeway for officials to offer higher wages.

Quality-of-life issues also appear on some of Tuesday's ballots. In Ventura, voters will revisit a long-hot topic: protecting views in the city's historic downtown area.

A yes vote on Measure B would ban construction of any building taller than 26 feet for up to two years. During that period, a 23-member board, appointed primarily by backers of the measure, would write and seek approval of a permanent view protection ordinance.

The measure is backed by Ventura Citizens Organized for Responsible Development, a group concerned that development is destroying coastal and hillside views in downtown and mid-town neighborhoods. Critics say Measure B is overly complicated and not needed. If it is passed, a new hotel and other construction slated for the beach area could be put on hold. Opponents also say stricter regulation could stall economic growth.

Residents of several small unincorporated communities will weigh in on whether they want to be annexed to the city of Santa Clarita (Measure A), to form their own new city (Measure B) or to remain under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County (Measure C). Measure A is a nonbinding advisory vote.

The Santa Clarita Valley communities include Sunset Pointe, Stevenson Ranch, Southern Oaks, Westridge, Tesoro, Castaic and Val Verde.

For communities considering annexation, the city of Santa Clarita boasts, in a color brochure, that it offers "excellent" municipal services and "great" opportunities for business, among other features. City Manager Kenneth R. Pulskamp said his city pursues annexation only "if people show they are interested."

He added, "There have been a lot of people who have made it very clear over the years that they want to be a part of Santa Clarita."

Leaders of some of the communities see things differently.

"Santa Clarita has for a long time wanted to expand their boundaries," said Ron Mechsner, president of the West Ranch Town Council, which represents some of the communities; he said those communities, commonly known as Westside, "feel pressured by" the city.

"They have not worked well with us," Mechsner said.


Times staff writer Catherine Saillant in Ventura County contributed to this report.

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