Nearly 200 turn out to protest proposed storm water pollution fee
After a five-hour hearing where nearly 200 people spoke on a proposed parcel fee that would go to clean up storm water pollution in the county's water bodies, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors deferred a vote to place the fee on the ballot.
The fee would be levied on all property owners in the county's flood control district, raising an estimated $290 million a year to help cities and the county deal with widespread water quality issues stemming from polluted storm water and urban runoff.
The board heard mainly opposition from the public at Tuesday's protest hearing, including from school districts, senior citizens and nonprofits concerned about the effect on their budgets from the proposed fee -- which would range from about $54 a year for most single-family homes to tens of thousands of dollars for large properties.
"To put another tax burden on our city would be way over the top," said Donna Gannon, a resident of Bell, a low-income city in southeast Los Angeles County where many leaders were embroiled in a corruption scandal two years ago. "It is a financial difficulty for a lot of people in our area that are not working."
Retiree Steve Colf, 68, said his monthly property bill on a 6-acre horse ranch he and his wife own in Newhall would go from about $600 to $1,100 a month under the new fee.
"We would probably lose the ranch," he said.
The board also heard from business groups concerned that the proposal contained no sunset date or list of specific projects. Christina Davis, head of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, called it "effectively a massive slush fund set up with no significant oversight."
Some also spoke in favor of the proposal, including environmentalists and officials from some of the cities that would get a share of the funds.
Simboa Wright, 34, said he works for the city of Los Angeles' sanitation bureau and sees the problem of pollution from runoff first hand while maintaining the city's storm water catch basins.
"I see what goes in there from trash to bottles of ammonia, bleach bottles and motor oil. And what happens if we don't do this? What happens is it goes straight to our ocean, the L.A. River and Santa Monica Bay," Wright said.
The supervisors could have voted Tuesday to hold an election on the proposal -- possibly in a vote-by-mail ballot sent only to property owners.
Instead, they voted to keep the protest period open another 60 days and directed staff members to work on changes to the proposal suggested by Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky, including adding a sunset date and specific list of projects, and developing a credit for property owners who are already capturing and treating storm water.
They also asked staff to look into other mechanisms for funding the needed clean water projects. A separate motion by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich that asked staff to look specifically into using funds that used to go to redevelopment agencies was voted down, as was a motion asking the board to oppose the storm water fee measure entirely.
-- Abby Sewell at the County Hall of Administration
Photo: Hanna Zaiet, of Agua Dulce, Sally Harrington of Acton and Claudia Kelly of Agua Dulce hold signs of protest at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting on a proposed storm water pollution fee. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times