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L.A. Council votes to put oil-producer tax, other measures on March ballot

Panel may send as many as 11 measures before voters, including a revamped pension plan for new officers and firefighters; a DWP watchdog agency; increased library funding; and a tax on medical pot shops.

November 18, 2010|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council decided Wednesday to ask voters to impose a tax on oil producers, approve a revamped pension plan for newly hired cops and firefighters, and create a watchdog agency at the Department of Water and Power.

The council has moved this week to have L.A. voters consider as many as 11 measures on the March 8 city ballot.

The measures would appear on a packed ballot that will also include contests for seven council seats and four seats each on the Los Angeles Unified School District board and the L.A. Community College District board.

During discussion, several council members worried that voters could succumb to "ballot fatigue" and vote no on everything. But lawmakers went ahead and approved most proposed ballot measures.

Among the proposals is a new tax on oil producers in Los Angeles, where scattered derricks attest to the city's status as a continuing site of extraction. Under the council proposal, oil producers would pay $1.44 for each barrel of oil, generating an estimated $4.1 million annually for the cash-strapped city.

Supporters noted that other cities, including Beverly Hills, Inglewood and Long Beach already have an oil extraction tax — though the proposed L.A. levy would be the highest in the area.

"This is an important source of revenue that we should be taking," said Councilman Paul Krekorian.

Seeking unsuccessfully to the table the measure was Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who had originally proposed the tax idea.

"We know the oil companies are probably going to mount a massive campaign to defeat this," said Hahn, whose district includes several refineries.

Despite Hahn's objection, the council voted overwhelmingly to send the oil tax proposal to voters.

The council opted to go ahead with 11 measures before the Wednesday deadline for putting matters on the ballot. Of those, six must be approved by the 15-member council again next week because they did not pass unanimously as required.

At that point, only a veto from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could stop the items from being placed on the ballot. There has been no public indication that the mayor plans to wield his veto power.

Villaraigosa has noted his preference that one of the most controversial ballot proposals — to create a so-called ratepayer advocate at the DWP — be done without a ballot measure. But the council backed putting the new advocate position on the ballot as an amendment to the City Charter.

Responding to criticism that he had "gutted" the ratepayer advocate plan, Council President Eric Garcetti moved to bolster the position. The proposed advocate will now have a budget of at least $1 million, said Garcetti, seeking to quell fears that the office could be left without sufficient operating funds.

The council also moved to ask voters to give the council new powers to remove members of the DWP's board of governors and its general manager.

Also on Tuesday, the council voted to place on the ballot a plan to reduce costs for pensions and retiree healthcare for newly hired police officers and firefighters. Public safety unions and Villaraigosa have signed off on the plan, which backers hail as visionary, even as critics say it does not go nearly far enough to control soaring pension obligations from public-sector employees.

Los Angeles, already battered with layoffs and service cuts, faces a $320-million fiscal shortfall next year, noted Miguel Santana, the city's administrative officer.

Other measures headed for the March ballot include proposals to increase library funding, impose a tax on medical marijuana dispensaries and reform electoral financing by restricting contractor contributions and making more public funds available for campaigns.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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