New Report Gloomy on Calabasas' Fiscal Prospects

Times Staff Writer

The seemingly jinxed Calabasas cityhood campaign received another setback Wednesday when a new government report predicted that incorporation would be a financial disaster for the community.

The proposed city would end up $1.3 million in the red after its first year of operation, warned a budget analysis prepared for Los Angeles County's Local Agency Formation Commission.

Commissioners will decide Feb. 10 whether to let residents of an 11-square-mile area south of the Ventura Freeway and west of Woodland Hills vote on incorporation in a June election.

The report concluded that it will cost $3.8 million to operate the city its first year, but revenues from taxes and other sources will only total $2.5 million.

The dismal financial forecast is the third such analysis of Calabasas' operating costs issued by the county in the last year.

Earlier projections forecast a $3-million deficit for a 26-square-mile cityhood proposal and a $1-million shortfall for a 14-square-mile plan.

"I've made the recommendation to deny it from the very beginning," said Ruth Benell, commission executive officer and author of the reports. "I don't make those figures up. I get them from the sources."

Cityhood boosters challenged the accuracy of the figures in Benell's latest report, however.

They said $675,811 listed for brush-fire protection is invalid because of recent legislation that limits the amount that the county Fire Department can charge.

Incorporation backers also complained that some revenue figures quoted by Benell are out of date or incomplete.

"We're dealing with dated data," charged Robert Hill, president of the Calabasas Cityhood Study Committee. "The $676,000 shouldn't be in there. It's been legislated out. I don't know why they put it in there except as a source of irritation to us."

Hill said cityhood leaders will travel to next month's commission meeting armed with fresh revenue figures and proof that the brush-fire law is legal and binding.

If the commission throws out the fire costs and updates other figures, the budget will be close to being balanced, Hill said.

"I think we're in. I'm absolutely optimistic," he said.

But Benell said she is convinced that cityhood is not financially viable for Calabasas' 18,561 residents.

"There's some question in my mind about the constitutional firmness of the wild-land fire bill," she said. "If they want to take a chance and take those costs out, it's still not financially viable."

If the cityhood backers prevail, however, it will not be the first time that they have revived a seemingly doomed incorporation plan.

The committee has fought back by repeatedly agreeing to shrink its proposed boundaries--which, in 1986, were to be 30 square miles--and revising budget figures.

In July, the committee beat back a challenge to the proposed city's financial stability by producing its own analysis that used fresher tax-revenue figures than those provided by county agencies.

And, in November, the committee persuaded commission members to reject a major landowner's request for exclusion.

The shrinkage threat may not be over, however.

For next month's commission meeting, Benell has prepared an alternate analysis covering about 7 square miles that excludes the western part of the community.

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