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L.A. County may back off on seeking storm water parcel fee

After nearly 200 people protest the plan at a hearing, a majority of the Board of Supervisors are rethinking asking voters to approve a fee for the cleanup of runoff.

March 12, 2013|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Signs warn against entering or fishing in storm water-fed Legg Lake in the Whittier Narrows Recreation area in Pico Rivera in 2012. L.A. County must comply with clean water regulations, including newly updated municipal storm water permits. Compliance will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and failure to comply could lead to costly fines. The proposed fee would provide about $290 million a year.
Signs warn against entering or fishing in storm water-fed Legg Lake in the… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

A majority of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors want to back away from a proposed ballot measure that would impose a controversial parcel fee on county property owners to clean up storm water pollution.

The supervisors first considered the proposal in January but deferred a vote after a hearing at which nearly 200 people spoke, the vast majority in opposition to the fee, which would range from about $54 a year for most single family homes to tens of thousands of dollars for large, industrial properties.

School officials, senior citizens and nonprofit agency leaders argued that the fee would strain their already tight budgets. Others complained that, among other things, a hearing notice and protest form sent out by the county was discarded by some owners because it looked like junk mail. Many also objected to the idea of conducting the vote via a special mail-only ballot of property owners rather than as part of a regular countywide election.

Last week, three of the five supervisors introduced proposals for Tuesday's board meeting that would send the measure back to the drawing board in some fashion.

Supervisors Don Knabe and Gloria Molina called for killing the proposal indefinitely, although they also would direct the county's chief executive to report back on what steps the board would need to take to put it on a future general election ballot.

The supervisors cited a lack of public support and said the fee should come with a sunset date and a specific list of projects, as well as a credit for property owners who have already invested in storm water capture and treatment.

Another proposal from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky would direct staff to bring back a revised measure for either the June 2014 or November 2014 general election.

Yaroslavsky said Monday that complying with clean water regulations, including newly updated municipal storm water permits, would cost the county hundreds of millions of dollars, and failing to comply could lead to costly fines. The proposed fee would provide about $290 million a year to be used by the county flood control district, municipalities and regional watershed authority groups.

"We can't put our heads in the sand," Yaroslavsky said. "This issue is not going to go away just because we don't like it."

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed fee. A spokeswoman for board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas could not be reached.

If more than 50% of affected property owners had filed protests, the measure would have been automatically halted, but only about 5% did. Kirsten James, water quality director for nonprofit Heal the Bay, said she was concerned that a "vocal minority" had caught the ear of the supervisors.

"The longer we wait, the more people get sick going to the beach, and the more marine life will be impacted," she said.

David Englin, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Business Federation, which has opposed the proposal, said the federation was encouraged by the direction of the supervisors.

The federation particularly was at odds with the flood control district over the issue of credits for property owners that already spend heavily to remediate runoff. The flood control district has proposed a credit of up to 80%, but the federation takes issue with the formula used and argues that some property owners should get a 100% reduction.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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