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L.A. should hike sales tax to pay for street repairs, report says

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L.A.'s elected officials should put a half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot to pay for repairs of the worst streets and sidewalks, two top policy analysts said Tuesday.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller recommended a tax hike that would generate $4.5 billion over 15 years -- $3.86 billion for roads and potentially $640 million for broken and buckled sidewalks.

The proposal is contained in a report that examined a variety of strategies for generating the money needed to address a major repair backlog. City elected officials originally considered a bond measure -- which would be paid with increased property taxes. But the two policy advisors said that strategy wouldn't generate enough money.

INTERACTIVE: What grade does your L.A. street get?

A sales tax hike, the report said, also would be paid by a greater number of people who use L.A.'s streets, including those who live outside city limits. "An important message communicated by participants of public outreach meetings has been that the [street repair program] not be solely financed by property owners," the two men wrote.

The council would have to decide in July if it wanted to place the street repair tax on the November election ballot. Two-thirds of voters would have to approve the measure.

Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino, who have been looking for ways to fund street repairs, said an April 2 hearing would be held on the tax proposal. Buscaino declined to say whether he supports the proposal but suggested there would be risks in delaying action.

"If we continue to sit on our hands, it’s going to get more costly," he said.

Buscaino and Englander tried two years ago to put a property tax hike on the May 2013 ballot, only to pull that plan back. Council members were worried that it could doom a separate plan to hike the sales tax in the city. The separate sales tax hike was defeated by voters.

A tax to fund street repairs could dovetail with Garcetti's "back to basics" agenda. But getting two-thirds support could also prove difficult. Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb did not indicate whether the mayor supports the proposal.

"Mayor Garcetti is committed to improving L.A.'s infrastructure and will continue assessing a range of options to determine the best way forward," he said in an email.

The tax hike plan comes at a time when Los Angeles faces potentially major legal liability over its damaged sidewalks. The Bureau of Street Services estimates that 40% of the city's sidewalks may be in need of repair, with a majority of them damaged by tree roots. Advocates for wheelchair users have gone to court to force the city to make more repairs.

The proposal drew a critical response from Jack Humphreville, a neighborhood council member who campaigned successfully against the city's sales tax hike last year. Humphreville said that in recent years, money that should have gone to repairs went instead to "over-the-top compensation" for city workers.

The city's elected officials "were grossly negligent over the last two decades in maintaining our infrastructure," he said.

INTERACTIVE: What grade does your L.A. street get?

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david.zahniser@latimes.com
Twitter: twitter.com/davidzahniser

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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