Bill could help relieve disaster victims

Residents affected by the Station fire and subsequent winter debris flows could receive significant tax relief under a bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino that passed a key committee last week.

The "Disaster Relief Bill" — co-authored by Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) — would provide state property tax breaks to homeowners who have to repair or rebuild in the wake of natural disasters.

"When people suffer property loss in their homes, that's an emotional assault on one's place for safety," Portantino said. "And it's the least the state can do to try to offer some tax relief to folks that have been devastated."

In the short term, the tax liability for affected residents would be re-evaluated to reflect damage to the property. Later on, affected residents would be able to repair or rebuild their homes without incurring higher property tax bills.

The legislation would also protect residents who choose to move instead of rebuild, according to Portantino's office.

The bill, which has already been approved by the Assembly, passed the Senate's Revenue & Taxation Committee this week. It will now go to the Appropriations Committee before a full Senate vote.

"I'm hoping the senators see the merit behind this," Portantino 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.

It was then amended to include the areas affected in the ensuing winter storms, including the February debris flows in La Cañada Flintridge that damaged dozens of homes and left nine inhabitable.

La Cañada City Councilman Stephen Del Guercio said the proposed tax relief would help keep affected residents from incurring even more financial difficulties.

Some affected residents had lived in their homes for decades and likely wouldn't be able to pay a higher property tax bill, he added.

"It could very well force them to move if this relief wasn't provided," Del Guercio said.

The proposed bill was also expanded to include eight other counties that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also designated as natural disaster areas, including those in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

In addition to the help for homeowners, the legislation would provide a one-year reimbursement to the counties for any property tax losses related to natural disasters.

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