Santa Clarita Valley Weighs Special Road Tax

Times Staff Writer

A committee of business leaders and two major developers in the Santa Clarita Valley said Monday that it may be time to ask voters to approve a special tax to finance badly needed road improvements.

The committee is studying a proposal, still in its infancy, that calls for the creation of an assessment district that would raise funds for improvements by imposing an extra fee on property tax bills.

Such a district would not solve all the area's transportation problems, committee members said, but it would swiftly raise money for such improvements as widening roads and building bridges.

But the committee members agreed that winning public support for the fees will not be easy. Creating the assessment district would require a two-thirds vote in a public referendum.

Santa Clarita Councilman Dennis Koontz said Monday he opposes the plan and doubts that the public will embrace it.

"They want something done about our traffic, of course," Koontz said of the voters. "But I'm not sure they want to be the ones to pay for it. If development is going to continue, they would want developers to pay for that."

Jack Shine, chairman of American Beauty Homes, a longtime valley developer, proposed the assessment district in a speech before members of the Canyon Country and Santa Clarita Valley chambers of commerce July 7.

The chambers formed a committee to study the proposal. The panel met Monday, when a representative of Newhall Land & Farming Co. helped one from American Beauty Homes push the concept.

The committee must still consult with attorneys, bond specialists and other experts to determine requirements for such a district under state law, said committee member Connie Worden. There are such questions as how the district would operate, how much assessments would be and where district boundaries would be set, she said.

The committee did agree, however, on some basic principles. The district would be administered jointly by Los Angeles County and the city of Santa Clarita. Most of the money would be earmarked for specific projects in advance so that voters would know where money would be spent.

Shine has suggested an assessment of $8.25 a month, roughly $100 annually, for each property owner. He said such an assessment could raise $50 million to $60 million over the life of the district, which could be from 10 to 30 years.

Committee members said they believe the public would support the assessment solely because of growing frustration over congested streets. Committee member Louis Garasi said the effort could be successful if the committee waged a campaign telling voters that there simply is not enough state or county financing to handle road improvements quickly.

Committee member Alan Cameron said the plan could help persuade state and federal agencies to contribute matching dollars to transportation efforts in the valley. Such prospects could be the key to gaining voter support, he said.

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