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Two proposed tax hikes move to L.A. council, but one effectively dies

October 19, 2012 |  2:15 pm

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson in 2011.

This post has been corrected. See below of details.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson on Friday moved two tax measures being proposed for the March ballot to the full council for review but held a third one that would have asked for a 50% hike on taxes collected at parking lots.

Two of the tax hikes -- one on real estate sales and the other a parcel tax that would only be used to fund recreation and parks -- need the council's approval by Oct. 31 to meet deadlines for the March ballot. Wesson acted as chairman of the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

But Wesson said he would "note and file" City Administrative Officer Manuel Santana's request to place the third one, a parking revenue measure, on the same ballot. The move effectively kills the measure for now.

Edward Johnson, a Wesson spokesman, said the councilman didn't think the parking tax increase would be approved by voters. Johnson said the measure would have needed a two-thirds vote to pass. But Santana, in his report to the committee, had recommended that the parking hike be placed as a general tax, which needs 50% plus one voter approval.

"He didn't think it would be viable at the ballot box,'' Johnson said.

Greg Spiker, representing parking lot operators, told the panel that an increase to 15% from 10% would hurt not just parking facilities but restaurants, theaters and nightclubs. Higher parking costs would drive motorists to other cities that charge no tax, said Spiker, representing the Los Angeles Parking Assn.

[For the record, 5:01 p.m. Saturday: A previous version of this post incorrectly named Greg Spiker as Ken.]

"A tax increase in general is not the way to go at this time,'' said Spiker, whose group represents about 80% of the city's parking lot operators.

The other two tax proposals will go before the full council later this month. A new tiered tax on property sales would raise an estimated $76 million to $82 million annually, Santana said in his report. The other, a $39-per-parcel tax increase, would generate an estimated $40 million that could be used only for parks and recreation.

Several speakers supported the parcel tax, which would pass if approved by at least two-thirds of the voters casting ballots. Steve Weingarten of People for Parks said dedicated funding for the city's recreation and parks centers is needed after years of city budget cuts resulting in layoffs and service reductions.

But Weingarten also urged the panel to insert language guaranteeing that funding could not be siphoned off for other uses.

The city is facing a shortfall of $216 million and has already cut services and reduced its workforce "to where we've hit the bone,'' Santana said. Raising revenue is necessary to avoid cuts in police and fire services, he said.

Costs are increasing at 5% a year while revenue is rising at a more sluggish 3%, Santana said. Property and sales taxes are starting to rise again but they are not yet at levels to sustain city operations, he said.


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall


Photo: Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson in 2011. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times