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California

L.A. County voters to decide on parks tax, possible homeless tax in November

Parks
Children cool off at a water park on a hot summer day in Alhambra.
(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles County officials voted Tuesday to ask voters to raise their property taxes to pay for park projects and to consider another funding measure to pay for homeless services.

The parks measure would impose a 1.5-cent levy per square foot of building area – about $22.50 a year for a 1,500-square-foot house – and bring in $94.5 million a year, without an end date. 

The initiative is the county’s second recent attempt at persuading voters to tax themselves for park improvements. A proposed $23 parcel tax for park projects intended to replace expiring parks taxes passed in 1992 and 1995 failed narrowly in 2014. Opponents criticized the lack of a defined project list and said poor communities would not get a fair share of the funding.

In preparation for the second attempt, county officials commissioned a study of parks needs throughout the county, which found large disparities in park access. Countywide, there was an average of 3.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. Communities in central and South Los Angeles, southeast county areas and parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys had the most park-poor areas.

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If the new measure – which would require support from two-thirds of voters – passes in November, most of the money would be administered via grants to cities and other local agencies and nonprofits, with some of the money set aside for the areas identified as high need.

The parks measure will join an increasingly crowded slate of tax initiatives on the November ballot, including a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, a $1.2-billion bond measure proposed by the city of Los Angeles to build housing for the homeless, and a potential county parcel tax measure to raise money for homeless services.

Dozens of community activists, city officials and environmentalists spoke in favor of the proposal, citing the public health and environmental benefits of parks.

“I see every day how our children are forced to play in the streets or to be locked indoors because of the lack of parks,” South Gate resident Angela Saez told the supervisors in Spanish. Her city has an average of 1.5 acres of parks per 1,000 residents.

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But business groups lined up in opposition. Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said, that with a crowded ballot anticipated in November, his group believes the top priorities should be transportation and homelessness. He also objected to the funding formula, which would place the majority of the cost on business properties, because they typically have higher square footage.

“It’s pretty easy to have a cup of coffee when someone else is paying for it,” he said.

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl shot back, “You’ve had plenty of our cups of coffee.” She noted that commercial properties have received favorable treatment under Proposition 13, the property tax initiative approved by California voters in 1978.

The vote to place the measure on the ballot was 3-1, with Supervisor Don Knabe casting the opposing vote and Michael D. Antonovich being absent. Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl voted in favor of it. Knabe objected to the lack of an end date for the parks proposal.

Also Tuesday, the supervisors voted to consider three different potential tax measures to fund efforts to reduce homelessness. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a three-cent per square foot parcel tax. Kuehl asked that the county also consider a tax on marijuana sales as an alternative. Antonovich, typically an opponent of tax increases, asked that the county also study a quarter-cent sales tax increase with an advisory question that would ask the funding be directed to “mental health factors and other causes and effects of homelessness.” 

The board will consider all three potential approaches at next Tuesday’s meeting and could vote to place one of them on the ballot.

 

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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Twitter: @sewella


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