Legislature to Jurupa Valley: 'Drop Dead'

City Limits
City Limits | Photo: Moosealope | Flickr: Creative Commons License

The newly incorporated city of Jurupa Valley may be gone by the end of September 2013, the victim of a careless state Legislature. Menifee, Wildomar, and Eastvale -- also in Riverside County -- are only marginally better off. The four cities are collateral damage of a sort, obscure footnotes to legislation that raised the motor vehicle license fee by $12 but takes back about $14 million that would have helped these young cities pay for police services.

It's pointless to explain -- if explanation were possible -- how a city property tax on automobiles in the 1930s became a state license fee and a principal source of revenue for state government. Mixed up in it is something mysterious called the "triple flip," which (whatever else it did) established a pattern of transferring to the state much of the revenue that once went to cities. The Legislature has messed with local government financing for years, most recently by abolishing redevelopment agencies and now by adopting SB 89.

Eastvale and Jurupa Valley are struggling new cities. Menifee and Wildomar are only slightly older and dealing now with significantly larger populations. All of them contract with public agencies or private enterprise for municipal services and demonstrate (at least for now) how government can be both local and low cost. Jurupa Valley's bewildered mayor told reporters, "Our budget is bare bones. The only employees we have are the city council members. Everyone else is contracted ... We haven't even had time to make any bad fiscal decisions."

The state has had decades. (Consider that state finance officials are now trying to find where $2.3 billion in "special funds" have been hidden away in state agencies and departments.)

SB 89, which took back the funds that earlier legislation set aside specifically for law enforcement in new cities, is the cause of Jurupa Valley's pending disincorporation. Jurupa Valley's share of the funds the state clawed back is nearly 50 percent of its entire budget. In the other cities, revenue losses range from 15 to 22 percent of the city budget.

Jurupa Valley and the other cities sought to repair the crisis that SB 89 created through yet another bill, but it quietly died last month in the Senate Appropriations Committee, leaving the cities without any recourse until another legislative session. By then, it may be too late.

When reporters questioned why the $14 million for new cities in Riverside County was allocated away, representatives of the governor's office and the Assembly shrugged and pointed to the state's deficit.

That, of course, explains nothing. Dan Oney, writing at PublicCEO.com, noted, "The state has assumed the ultimate authority to borrow, raid, and steal from budgets at all levels of government."

That authority, Oney believes, has blunted local economic development, forced thousands of city employees out of their jobs (eroding the quality of neighborhood services), and pushed more cities to the edge of insolvency, largely for the sake of "this year only" fixes to a worsening state deficit.

$14 million to police four new cities in Riverside County isn't much. But the state is, in fact, far more desperate than you imagine, desperate enough to dismiss you and the local government that is the guarantor of the quality of life in your neighborhood.

And in its desperation, the state is telling Jurupa Valley -- in fact, every California city -- to drop dead.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog.