Don’t water down our right to vote on taxes

The Southern California News Group (SCNG) recently published my article about upcoming legislation SB 231 which aims to limit LA County resident’s right to vote on property tax increases.  To learn more, you can read my OpEd below:

Don’t water down our right to vote on taxes

by Judy Nelson

Los Angeles County residents should be aware of stormwater regulations that could dramatically increase our property tax bills. Proposed legislation in Sacramento known as SB231, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley, would allow stormwater-control costs to be added to property assessments without a direct vote of the people.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted groundbreaking stormwater-management regulations affecting all cities in the region. Our county is the test site for the rest of the state and the country.

The mandate, called an MS4 permit, requires that cities capture 85 percent of the water from the first 24 hours of a storm. All water that flows out of the city via storm drains must first be monitored and treated for over 30 pollutants.

Those of us in government for local cities support the ideal of conserving water and preventing pollution from reaching the ocean. But the costs of implementing the systems are daunting, as this is a mandate without a funding source.

The big question for cities is “Where will the $20 billion to pay for the stormwater regulations come from?”

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Great News! We spoke and our legislators listened.

Recently, I wrote an article about my opposition to Senate Bill 1298 which, if passed, would allow stormwater management costs to be added to property tax assessments without a citizen vote. SB 1298 was deeply flawed from a Constitutional and legal standpoint. It aimed to create a loophole in Prop 218, the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act” and was a clear disregard of the voting rights of California residents.

I’m pleased to announce that Sen. Hertzberg of Van Nuys, the author of SB 1298, has chosen to withdraw his bill, at least for this year. It is the second time in recent years that a proposed property tax assessment for stormwater management in LA County has been defeated, in large part, to grassroots opposition. Thanks to everyone who shared the word and contacted local legislators and Governor Brown to voice opposition.

However, we must stay vigilant because there is another tax threat in the pipeline: Los Angeles Supervisor Sheila Kuehl is crafting a “funding strategy” called the “Drought Resiliency Funding Plan” which will be unveiled in 2017. I will be following this closely and keeping residents informed.

Sincerely,

Judy Nelson

Citizen Alert: Stormwater Fees that could impact your property tax bill

Senate Bill 1298, called “Local Government: Fees and Charges,” is proposed legislation moving rapidly through the CA State Assembly and Senate in Sacramento. It aims to create a loophole in Prop 218 so that stormwater assessments can be added to property taxes without being placed on the election day ballot. It could open the door to dramatic property tax increases that avoid the standard 2/3 voter approval.  If you are concerned about losing your right to vote on new property tax assessments please read the details below and contact your state legislators and Gov. Brown to voice your opinion.  If it passes in the Assembly and Senate this month, it will be sent to the Governor in September for his signature or veto.

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In 2012, the LA Regional Water Board mandated groundbreaking stormwater requirements for all cities in the county. The mandate, called a MS4 Permit, requires extensive new infrastructure and is estimated to cost more than $20 Billion over the next 20 years to implement. While we all want to conserve water and prevent pollution from reaching the ocean, there is currently no budget to pay for the new systems. The City of Glendora has estimated costs at $233 million.

In order to create a revenue stream, Senator Robert Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley wrote Senate Bill 1298 so that stormwater costs can be added to property tax bills. While it would create much needed funding, it is constitutionally questionable. It removes the 2/3 voting requirement for new taxes and allows stormwater assessments to avoid being placed on the election day ballot.

SB 1298 aims to weaken Prop 218, the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act” which was passed by voters 20 years ago to ensure that new or increased taxes, fees and assessments would be approved by the people before being enacted. SB 1298 attempts to change the Public Utilities Code definition of “sewer service,” to include stormwater. It would allow local governments to pass the storm water management costs directly to residents via a “protest ballot” which is a non-standard vote held outside of normal election proceedings, and is historically known to disenfranchise voters.

In the City of Glendora, it is estimated that a stormwater property tax assessment could average $1200 per year for residential properties. It would also impact schools, hospitals, businesses and churches. For people who are on fixed income, the elderly, and those who are struggling to meet their mortgages each month, it could be particularly damaging.

Last year, polling was conducted to determine whether voters would approve a Constitutional Amendment to Prop 218, to allow stormwater costs to be added to the three utility assessments that are exempt from an election day vote: trash, sewage, and household water use. The polling results showed that citizens would not support creating an exemption for stormwater, and the measure would most likely fail at the ballot box. Residents specifically showed disapproval for it being passed “without voter approval.” Shortly after these polling results, Senator Hertzberg created SB 1298 to do exactly that… circumvent the need for voter approval by wordsmithing the language of Prop 218 to call stormwater “sewage.”

The bill is a “gut and amend” which means that the stormwater legislation was stuffed into the bill late in the process. Due to this, it will not be thoroughly vetted in committees. It is moving rapidly and appears that it will be passed by the Senate and Assembly before the end of this month. It would then proceed to the Governor’s desk where many local cities are advocating for a veto. Currently, cities are sending opposition letters to Sacramento on behalf of their citizens. Local journalists on both sides of the political spectrum have also published opposition articles. It is clearly a bi-partisan issue which crosses political boundaries.

If legislators want financial support from residents for stormwater managment, it should be obtained by following the standard practice of placing the measure on the election day ballot. Ultimately, it will also be necessary to find State and Federal funding for the implementation of the MS4 permit.

There are many questions about the legality of SB 1298, and if it is passed there are organizations considering court challenges on behalf of the taxpayers.  What is abundantly clear at the moment, is that attempting to force residents to pay for stormwater by thwarting the democratic process with not sit well with them.

Below is additional background information regarding SB 1298.

Click the links to read the attachments:

Glendora Opposition Letter

Details about the poll regarding Prop 218 Constitutional Amendment

Tribune Editorial

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Opposition Letter 

Sincerely,

signature

Judy Nelson
Councilwoman, City of Glendora

Boardmember:
San Gabriel Valley Council of Government Water Committee
San Gabriel Valley Council of Government Energy, Environment and
Natural Resources Committee
San Gabriel Valley Water Association
Rivers and Mountains Conservancy
National Forest Foundation Community Collaborative