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For downtown L.A. only next week, another vote on another tax

November 06, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • Downtown Los Angeles voters will decide later this month whether to tax properties to pay for a streetcar like this one in Portland, Ore.
Downtown Los Angeles voters will decide later this month whether to tax… (Portland Oregonian )

So in addition to the taxes that every L.A. voter sees on Tuesday’s ballot -- Propositions 30, 38 and 39, and Measure J -- you now also know about the parcel taxes in the Santa Monica Mountains area and the coming countywide parcel tax for storm water cleanup. Sometimes they show up at the ballot box, sometimes in the mail.

But there’s one more for you.

Residents of part of downtown Los Angeles will get mail ballots next week asking them to vote on whether to tax property owners to repay bonds that would be sold to bring streetcars back to town after an absence of more than half a century. The tax would be in place for 30 years.

The interesting thing about this one is that all qualified voters who live in the district will be able to cast ballots, but a majority of them are renters and they wouldn’t be the ones paying the tax. The tax instead would fall on property owners in the district, so this is one time when residency trumps wealth. Depending on your point of view, that could be seen as welcome turnabout or profoundly unjust.

Unlike the Santa Monica Mountains taxes, this one wouldn’t be a parcel tax (where each owner pays the same amount regardless of the size or value of the land). It’s a special tax based on a formula that takes into account how close each property would be to the streetcar and thus, presumably, how much those properties would benefit from that location.

The Los Angeles City Council in July approved creating the 397-acre, three-block Streetcar Community Facilities District and sending the question to the about 7,000 registered voters who live there. The project has been championed by Councilman Jose Huizar and Los Angeles Streetcar Inc.

This type of district, and this type of voting, is authorized by the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982.

If passed, the tax is expected to raise $62.5 million for the construction of four streetcar lines -- or rather it would repay bonds issued to pay for the lines. Funding would also be needed from the federal government.

For the city attorney’s analysis of the measure, click here.

The Los Angeles Downtown News has been all over this issue, and recently reported that there is a $22.5-million difference between the $62.5-million capital construction cost for the subway and the $85-million bond cost, which includes streetcar capital, bond issuance costs, a reserve fund and other expenses.

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