Voicing concern over a possible statewide trend, a Senate committee Wednesday heard charges of alleged local governmental abuse of a 19-year-old law under which Port Hueneme wants to collect a so-called view tax on homeowners based on their view and access to the ocean.
The act permits cities, counties, and special districts to levy assessments for land purchase and the construction, operation and maintenance of parks, landscaping and lighting. But critics charge Port Hueneme is violating the intent of the act in its efforts to raise revenue for beach maintenance work from homeowners who live within two blocks of the sea.
Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), who sponsored the Landscape and Beach Lighting Act of 1972 said, “I think the Point Hueneme case is stretching it a bit.”
Others at the hearing agreed, including Joel Fox, the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., who contended that some local officials have created special assessment districts as a “way to raise property taxes and escape the voting requirements of Proposition 13.
“Benefit assessments have stretched like Pinocchio’s nose beyond their original size and intent,” Fox said.
Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), chairwoman of the Senate Local Government Committee that conducted the hearing, said she was concerned that officials of several counties “see the act as a way to fund field maintenance and community recreational programs without a vote of the people.
“Should residents close to the ocean pay for beach cleanup even though inlanders also use the beach?” Bergeson asked.
The Port Hueneme City Council contends its action is perfectly legal, citing a provision of the law allowing a legislative body with a four-fifths vote to override a majority public protest.
Angry homeowners in the Ventura County community have filed a lawsuit challenging the special assessment and a move to revise the law is expected to be made at the 1992 legislative session.
The Port Hueneme council authorized the tax 4 to 0 despite individual written protests from more than half of the 1,250 homeowners in the special tax district.
The city hopes to raise $150,000 a year to help pay beach maintenance costs. The average annual cost per affected homeowner would be an estimated $131.
Before 1978, local governments relied heavily on property taxes to fund services. But when Proposition 13 was approved that year, it drastically cut both the property tax base and the tax rate, causing local governments to scramble to find new funding mechanisms to help pay for services, which led to increased use of the 19-year-old law.
In addition to Port Hueneme, the act has been used to justify assessment fees by the Azusa Unified School District.