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Water Taxes and Fees Make a Splash

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Water, and how much we'll pay for it, is back on the city's agenda, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to quadruple a storm water runoff tax on property owners in abeyance.

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Last week, Villaraigosa was pushing a plan, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, to:

ask property owners across the city to quadruple what they pay to fight storm-water pollution -- using a process that allows the city to avoid the usual two-thirds requirement for raising new revenues.

Under the proposal, property owners citywide would be sent mail-in ballots and given 45 days this summer to return their votes. The procedure would allow the fee increases to win approval with a simple majority.

That plan has been abandoned this week, at least for now, and local activist and commentator Ron Kaye is thrilled:

It was not presented to Neighborhood Councils, no case was made for the tax in public, it was being rushed before voters without any facts that allowed for full debate.

In this case, there was even a subterfuge involved to use a mail ballot to the three-quarters of a million property owners and allow them 45 days to respond while officials, backed by a campaign undoubtedly well financed by contractors and unions, sought to sell on the public on paying more for something they already have agreed to put up $500 million for.

It was nothing but an attempt to get more money out of taxpayers to avoid facing the crisis caused by overspending and underperforming.

Mark Gold of Heal the Bay, though, thinks the proposed process was fair and the need for more stormwater abatement cash urgent:


Already, the Jarvis anti-tax folks have unfairly labeled the stormwater fee increase as another Measure B, despite the clear environmental need and economic justification for a fee increase. In addition, the fee increase discussion has been part of the water-quality plan development process, which has unfolded for the last two years and involved well over 100 stakeholders....the voters are needed again to provide the resources to clean up Santa Monica Bay, the L.A. River, Ballona Creek and local lakes. These funds also will lead to new, green stormwater infrastructure that will reduce pollution, augment local groundwater supplies and reduce flood risk. Without these funds, the public health of swimmers and surfers will remain at risk and the aquatic environment will remain degraded.

In other DWP and money news, the Daily News is mad at Villaraigosa for trying to get around the spirit of a court decision that brought a previous city dip into DWP revenues to an end. The mayor


has proposed taking an extra $57 million from the DWP this year. He's boosting the annual transfer of power revenue to city coffers from 7 percent to 8 percent. That means DWP ratepayers will fork over $222 million this year, instead of $194 million.

The city used to take roughly $30 million a year from the DWP's water revenue - until a court ruled last month that that transfer was illegal. So, they say, the mayor is simply using a legal loophole to boost the power revenue transfer (which is exempt in the ruling) to make up for the lost water transfer.

The court ruling on the water transfer confirmed what ratepayers have long known: The DWP pads utility bills and passes that "excess" revenue on to City Hall, so the mayor and City Council have plenty of cash to spend on the pet projects and the public employee unions that get them elected.

The court ruling put a halt to the water transfer, and opened the door for the DWP to refund ratepayers as much as $60 million, or two years of the water transfer.

With this supplemental transfer, the mayor is essentially reaching into the pockets of ratepayers and snatching that court-ordered refund.

Past waterblogging here at City of Angles.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Floyd B. Bariscale. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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