L.A.’s proposed anti-gang tax taking its hits

By Rick Orlov, Staff Writer

 

Even as a new dispute developed Wednesday over a proposed parcel tax to fund anti-gang programs in Los Angeles, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she would remove a quietly inserted provision that would have allowed the tax to be increased every year.

The controversy erupted after a draft of the measure, which has been championed by Hahn, included an allowance for the City Council to boost the tax amount every year to reflect the cost of inflation.

The provision sparked an outcry from taxpayer advocates and others who said it raised concerns over the final cost to taxpayers with no accounting for where or how the money would be spent.

“We should have a truth-in-advertising law for these measures,” Councilman Dennis Zine said. “In all the debate, there has not been one word said about raising the parcel tax every year. It’s going to cost $3 a month for the first year, but what will it be down the line? How much will we end up paying for these programs?”

Hahn initially defended the provision as necessary to cover rising future costs and said such provisions are common in measures.

“At most, we are talking pennies a year,” Hahn said. “It makes sense to have something like this since the amount of money raised in 2008 will not buy the same level of services in five or 10 years. You want to be able to reflect higher costs.”

Several hours later, as debate increased, however, Hahn said she was directing that the language be stripped from the measure to avoid any problems that could block its passage Friday when the council will consider placing it on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“We don’t want people to think we are going to get any more than $3 a month,” Hahn said through an aide. “This measure was designed to raise $30 million a year and that’s it.”

The parcel tax would be the latest hike Angelenos are facing.

City officials recently increased the trash fee to $36 a month – the maximum allowed – to pay for hiring new police officers. In efforts to balance the budget, the city also hiked fees for everything from planning services to golf.

And the Department of Water and Power this year hiked its rates – 6.2percent over two years for water and 8.5percent over three years for electricity.

If the council agrees to place the parcel-tax measure on the ballot, it would require approval from two-thirds of voters. The measure is expected to raise $30million a year with the annual charges on property expected to be $36.

Measure opposed

But early in the day, legal language returned by the City Attorney’s Office for the measure included a provision that read:

“For any fiscal year, the City Council may by ordinance increase the tax rate by no more than the Consumer Price Index, or any such indicator of economic growth, for all urban consumers for the Los Angeles area … .”

Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which opposes the entire measure, said the provision raised more concerns.

“Even though they say they will be using the Consumer Price Index, I’m not sure that’s the best measure,” Coupal said. “Our argument is the city has plenty of money and doesn’t need this tax and this is a hidden feature that could raise it to levels no one anticipated.”

Hahn said Wednesday that she also has been trying to work with Zine and others to resolve concerns over the entire measure, particularly in funding levels to deal with San Fernando Valley gangs.

The measure includes formation of an oversight committee that will include Valley residents as well as requiring that the Valley be included when identifying at-risk youngsters.

“I’m not sure it goes far enough,” Zine said. “I have areas of my district where we have gang injunctions in place, but there is no guarantee money will be used to develop any intervention or prevention programs there.”

Huizar’s concerns

Councilman Jose Huizar also said he was concerned about using funds from the parcel tax to pay for ongoing programs.

“I am not comfortable with having a parcel tax pay for programs,” he said. “It’s one thing to use these kind of taxes to build things, it’s another to use it to fund what we should be paying for out of the general fund.”

Huizar said the issue troubles him because his Eastside district has more gangs than any other part of the city.

“We have been having this debate over what we do with gang programs and how there has been a lack of accountability,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re ready to do something like this parcel tax until we have a better handle on what we’re doing.”

The council this year agreed with a report by Controller Laura Chick to transfer anti-gang prevention and intervention programs to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office.

The mayor officially received that authority July 1 and has been working to reshape the programs and develop new efforts to keep young people from joining gangs.

Hahn, however, has said she believes public awareness of the issue is high and it may be the best year in which to try to win voter approval.

She said details of the programs will be worked out with the oversight committee and the council.

The measure also contains a provision to allow annual audits by Chick. An aide to Chick said she has not yet taken a position on the tax proposal.

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