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Labor groups protest at county building over Prop. 13 tax loophole

Labor and community advocacy groups staged a brief sit-in outside the office of Los Angeles County's chief executive Friday calling on the county to scrutinize the property tax assessments of a major downtown property owner.

The activists from the ReFund LA Coalition say commercial property giant Brookfield Office Properties structured its recent acquisition of four downtown skyscrapers to take advantage of a tax loophole and avoid having the properties reassessed at fair market value as required by Proposition 13 when a change of ownership occurs.

The coalition has recently targeted prominent Los Angeles property owners as part of a campaign to reform the property tax law.

They say the company could avoid paying more than $10 million in property taxes a year by taking less than a 50% stake in a new entity that will take title to the properties and others now held by Brookfield.

About 100 activists rallied at Brookfield's Bank of America Plaza on South Hope Street and then marched to the county's Hall of Administration, where they rallied and then sat and chanted outside of county Chief Executive William T Fujioka's office until Fujioka emerged and took a copy of a letter stating their demands.

The activists called on the county to scrutinize Brookfield's properties -- along with those of other major commerical property owners -- and reassess the newly purchased properties, and to take a stand in favor of reforming Proposition 13 to close the loophole for commercial property owners.

SEIU Local 721, which is in the midst of contentious labor negotiations with the county and is part of the ReFund coalition, made similar requests as part of the contract talks but has accused the county of ignoring them.

Some union members have questioned why that issue is being brought up as part of the negotiations. But SEIU member Jesse Pinedo, an accountant supervisor with the county's internal services department, said he thinks it is important.

"This affects us, too, because with those funds, they can give us the raise that we deserve," he said, as well as paying for other public services.

The protesters first stood and then sat outside Fujioka's office, chanting "Let's talk to Bill! Where is Bill?" Initially members of his staff said he was not there, but after the protesters continued chanting, the chief executive came out and spoke briefly to the crowd.

Fujioka told the activists county officials agree with "what you are trying to achieve."

"I am going to go talk to the assessor's staff to find out about that," he said. "You gotta understand, there are hundreds of properties that are sold all the time."

Fujioka spokesman David Sommers said the Brookfield issue is unrelated to the county's negotiations with SEIU.


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