Los Angeles tables storm-water fee hike

The plan to ask property owners across Los Angeles to quadruple their storm-water pollution cleanup fees over the next five years has been tabled because of concern that it was prepared in haste and might not pass, city officials said Monday.

To get the additional fees in 2010, the City Council had to decide by this week whether to send out more than 800,000 mail-in ballots -- a process rarely, if ever, used citywide.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he feared that the plan, which became public only over the last week, would experience the same fate as Measure B, the solar energy plan defeated in the March 3 election after critics said it had been hurried to the ballot.

“It’s going to get killed, for now,” said Garcetti after discussing the plan at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees on the Board of Public Works voted last week to move ahead with the mail-in ballot plan, which would have asked property owners to hike their storm-water fees from $23 per year for the average parcel to $99 per year in 2013.

Sanitation officials had argued that the money was needed to pay for the cost of maintaining projects being built with the proceeds from Proposition O, a $500-million clean water bond passed by voters in 2004. A council vote in favor of the plan would have allowed ballots to go out in June, and if the measure was approved it would have placed the higher fee on property tax bills in December.

Board President Cynthia Ruiz said her agency would now develop a public outreach plan for the fee hikes -- one that highlights successes the Bureau of Sanitation has had so far in removing pollutants from storm water.

Ruiz said her agency had been aggressively pushing the fee hikes because it was anxious about the mayor’s proposed budget, which calls for a 10% reduction in payroll costs at every department -- a plan that could lead to furloughs and layoffs. The fee hike, if approved, would have provided a $24.6-million per year boost to the sanitation agency’s budget.


Still, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said she and her colleagues were troubled by the speed with which the proposal had moved. “A lot of questions couldn’t be answered to show that it was ready to go,” said Greuel.

With ballots being mailed to property owners, the fee hikes would have needed a simple majority vote to pass, not the two-thirds typically required in a regularly scheduled election. Garcetti said that, if possible, he would prefer to use a traditional ballot to win approval of the fee hikes, pointing out that Proposition O easily received two-thirds support in 2004.