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College Trustees OK Tax Despite Recall Threat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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

Climaxing a raucous six-hour public hearing, the board of trustees voted 4 to 3 to begin charging each homeowner in the sprawling, 882-square-mile district an annual $12 assessment, and varying amounts for other properties. The money, to be raised over at least the next 20 years, would pay for $205 million in planned college facility projects.

Unless blocked in court, the levies would 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.

During a hearing that began Wednesday evening, officials in 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 and one that will cost the district the public’s trust.

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“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 the tax.

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 [approval action] 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.’

To force a recall election under state law, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., San Fernando Valley Federation and Westside Civic Federation need to obtain petition signatures from 10% of the 1.86 million registered voters in the college district. The boundaries stretch from Sylmar to San Pedro and include the entire Los Angeles Unified School District and about a half-dozen other school systems.

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“They will pay such a heavy price for this they will be sorry they disenfranchised the voters,” warned Gordon Murley, a leader in both 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 the Proposition 13 requirement that many tax measures obtain direct approval from voters.

Even before notice of the college district’s new tax had 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. Group President Joel Fox said the college district tax could help spark voter support for the state measure.

College district officials received protest letters from owners of more than 29,000 parcels in the district, 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.

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Because state law does not allow the district to directly spend the tax proceeds on academic programs, officials have proposed a wide array of recreational, landscaping, lighting and parking projects.

Proponents argued those projects would make the colleges safer, more attractive, and help stop plummeting enrollments. But foes called many of the projects frivolous and even trustees noted that the district’s board had not previously approved any of the proposed work.

The landscaping and lighting district law was initially passed to allow the city of Manhattan Beach to fund street-lighting work. But in more recent years, school districts, chafing under Proposition 13 limits, have begun to use the law and the Kern Community College District adopted a tax levy earlier this year.

The tax levies for the Los Angeles district would continue annually for an estimated 20 or more years, because the district plans to issue long-term bonds to finance the work. Officials also have talked of trying to shuffle some of the funds to pay for academic programs.

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The measure, expected to raise about $21 million annually, also would charge apartment and condominium owners $9.36 per unit, plus levies of $66 per acre for commercial property, $51.36 per acre for industrial property, and $123.12 per acre for mobile home parks.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Los Angeles Community College District

Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District voted 4-3 Thursday to levy a districtwide parcel tax starting this November on more than 1 million property owners in the county. The rate, unless blocked in court, will be $12 per year for houses and varying amounts for other types of property. The money will go for various improvements at the nine district colleges.

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Listed below are the colleges, their total estimated amount of improvements, and the largest single project each has proposed*.

*

West Los Angeles College: $30,278,821

Acquire nearby property for recreation: $17,000,000

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*

Los Angeles Pierce College: $29,754,488

Expand stadium to 15,000 seats: $23,125,000

*

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Los Angeles City College: $29,622,215

Acquire/build new community park: $54,000,000

*

Los Angeles Valley College: $27,875,226

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Build parking structure for athletics: $15,000,000

*

East Los Angeles College: $26,887,230

New parking structure for stadium: $20,040,000

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*

Los Angeles Trade-Technical College: $19,261,011

Build community recreation center/fields: $7,000,000

*

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Los Angeles Harbor College: $15,507,528

Renovate/expand physical education bldg.: $8,600,000

*

Los Angeles Southwest College: $14,124,326

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New landscaping throughout the campus: $2,047,600

*

Los Angeles Mission College: $11,689,155

Help expand the campus by 40-60 acres: $20,000,000

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*

* Individual campus projects may be more costly than total proposed campus funding because the district has yet to specify which ones will be funded.

Source: LACCD


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