Legislators pass tax relief for residents affected by Station fire

Residents affected by the Station fire and subsequent winter storms could soon see some financial relief after state legislators on Tuesday passed a bill that would offer tax breaks for damaged properties.

The so-called "Disaster Relief Bill" — co-authored by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) — would provide state property tax breaks to homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed in last year's natural disasters.

The bill, which now awaits Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature, would go into effect immediately.

"It's a great bill, and we are very excited it got through with such bipartisan support," Portantino said. "Let's hope the governor signs it."

The proposed tax relief would help residents for years to come, he said.

In the short term, the tax liability for affected residents would be re-evaluated to reflect damage to the property. It would also allow people whose homes were destroyed to retain certain homeowner tax exemptions while they are in the process of rebuilding.

And later on, affected residents who repair or rebuild their homes would not incur higher property tax bills.

La Cañada Mayor Don Voss said the legislation had been well-received by residents affected by February's debris flows.

"We as a community are very grateful," he said.

Many of the residents have already begun rebuilding, he said, and will benefit from not having to pay higher property tax bills.

"It's a closely knit community and they are, generally speaking, determined to stay and hang in there for another winter or two," he said.

The legislation was originally written in the wake of the Station fire, which burned 160,000 acres to become the largest fire in Los Angeles County history.

The bill was amended in the wake of the ensuing winter storms, which brought the debris flows in La Cañada that damaged dozens of homes and left nine uninhabitable. It was later expanded to include "pretty much every disaster area in the state," Portantino said.

The designated natural disaster areas span 11 counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

In addition to the help for homeowners, the bill would also provide reimbursement to the counties for property tax losses related to the legislation.

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