SAN FERNANDO : Lighting Assessment Left Unchanged

Time has run out for the city of San Fernando to change the formula by which property owners pay for street lighting in the next fiscal year, despite a push to ease the burden on some homeowners.

"It's been on the table for a year," said Councilwoman Joanne Baltierrez, who argued for the city to change the assessment district Monday night. "What faith will the people have with their city government?"

At its Monday meeting the council considered and rejected changes to the assessment district, which charges more to owners of corner lots than those who live mid-block, based on a formula that properties with a larger street frontage should pay more.

The average yearly assessment for a 50-foot-frontage residential property is now $26.

The current formula assumes that owners of corner lots get more advantage from street lighting than other properties. However, some residents have complained that the system is unfair.

Four alternatives to the current system, in place for 13 years, were presented to the council Monday night.

In order to meet a county imposed August deadline to change the tax assessment district for the 1994-95 fiscal year, the council would have had to adopt a new plan Monday in time to set a public hearing in July to get input from residents.

"A public hearing (in July) would be meaningless," said Councilman Raul Godinez II, explaining that any choice the city makes now would not be a fully informed decision and would be made without true public input. And, even if the City Council wanted to make a further change after a July hearing, it could never hold a necessary follow-up hearing in time to meet the county deadline.

Instead, at the urging of Councilman Doude Wysbeek, the council voted 3 to 2 to put off any change to the district until next year and to start a series of public hearings July 11 on the issue. Baltierrez and Councilwoman Rosa Chacon, who wanted to change the district Monday night, dissented.

Alternatives to the current system include offering a discount to low-income property owners; setting up a flat rate for different types of property, such as residential, apartment buildings and commercial/industrial; offering a break on the cost to corner lots, and increasing the percentage of the assessment district that multifamily and apartment buildings pay.

The council votes on the assessment district each year, and since 1980 has not changed the district.

If the City Council missed the deadline to alter the district, it would have to pay $276,000 out of the city General Fund to run the street lighting program.

"There's no quick and easy answers where money is concerned," Wysbeek said.

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