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Community College Tax Approved

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brushing aside threats of a recall campaign, trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District voted early Thursday to impose a new districtwide tax that could affect more than 1 million properties in the county as early as November.

Climaxing a raucous six-hour public hearing that continued past 1 a.m., the Board of Trustees voted 4 to 3 to begin charging $12 a year to all homeowners in the sprawling, 882-square-mile district and varying amounts to other properties.

The money raised over at least the next 20 years would pay for $205 million in planned college facility projects.

Unless the tax is blocked in court, the levies will appear on residents’ November property tax bills, making Los Angeles’ only the second college district in California to use an obscure but controversial state law that permits levying such taxes without voters’ approval.

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During the hearing, officials of the 95,000-student district said they need the money to upgrade their nine dilapidated campuses. But foes called the tax a cynical attempt to evade Proposition 13 tax limits that will cost the district the public’s trust.

“Whatever money we’re going to get . . . doesn’t justify the loss of public trust this action will engender,” said Trustee Lindsay Conner, who voted against it.

During the hearing, representatives of three of the largest homeowners federations in Los Angeles County announced plans to launch recall campaigns against the four trustees who approved the tax without holding a public election: board President David Lopez-Lee, Althea Baker, Gloria Romero and Kenneth Washington.

“With this today, I will have the opportunity to do the most for the community college district I ever had or will have in my life. I intend to take advantage of it,” said Washington, a 27-year district veteran.’

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To force a recall election under state law, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., the San Fernando Valley Federation and the Westside Civic Federation need to obtain petition signatures from 10% of the 1.9 million registered voters in the college district. The boundaries stretch from Sylmar to San Pedro and include the entire Los Angeles Unified School District plus about half a dozen other school systems.

“They will pay such a heavy price for this they will be sorry they disenfranchised the voters,” said Gordon Murley, a leader in the Valley and Hillside groups.

The district used a little-known 1972 state law, the Landscaping and Lighting Act, to create a so-called assessment district to levy the tax. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that such districts are exempt from Proposition 13’s requirement that many tax measures obtain direct voter approval.

Even before notice of the college district’s new tax created a public furor, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. (named after the late co-author of Proposition 13) had planned to place a measure on the November state ballot that would remove many such exceptions. Association President Joel Fox said the college district tax could help spark voter support for the proposed measure.

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College district officials received protest letters from owners of about 5% of the total acreage. But under the state law, owners of more than half of all district property would have had to protest to stop the tax--a burden foes called impossible to meet.


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