Community Commentary: Open space tax is too heavy a burden

A group of self-interested and self-serving people have gathered enough Laguna Beach registered voter's signatures to force a vote to add another $20-million tax burden to our already heavily burdened real estate taxes.

The stated need for this special tax obligation is to buy undeveloped property to add to the city's presently substantial body of undeveloped property. The proposed property is privately owned, meaning its real estate taxes and property maintenance are paid by the owners. In a direct sense, the proposed tax is a triple loss proposition. First, the burden of a $20-million tax is levied on all private property owners. Second, the city loses real estate tax income going forward. Finally, the city gains the maintenance obligation going forward.

The parties supporting this tax burden claim the targeted property would not only prevent development of the property, but will also "complete" the city's open space. A recent disclosure of the targeted property evidences two realities. First, they are not developed because it is not economically feasible to develop and/or second, the property is not suitable for development, such as the city would deny the possibility of developing the land.

Perhaps you believe Laguna Beach's property owners can readily absorb a $20-million tax for open space spread over 20 years. You are mistaken if this is your belief.

Perhaps you are not aware:

•The city's budget is running close to empty. The city manager must already rob Peter to pay Paul. Peter's pockets will soon be empty.

Vacated city staff positions are being left open. The city cannot afford the personnel to replace those who have left.

The city's income is declining. A portion of the state's financial shortfall is already being taken from Laguna's share of taxes received and a larger portion of the city's income is mandated to be applied to the city's underfunded retirement account.

When the level of essential city services cannot be sustained to an acceptable level due to a lack of funding, higher taxes will have to be levied.

Open space is undeniably a good thing that can be appreciated by all. However, to obligate ourselves with an unnecessary and some would argue a luxury 20-year, $20-million tax obligation to buy more open space at this time is unnecessary and imprudent, especially given the public's current level of debt and its incapacity to both service and pay off debt.

CHRISTOPHER TOY is a Laguna Beach resident.

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