LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to put a measure on the November ballot that would levy a one-and-a-half cent per square foot parcel tax on properties countywide to fund parks development and maintenance.
If approved by voters, the parcel tax is estimated to raise roughly $95 million annually. The annual tax bill for a 1,500-square-foot house would be $22.50.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who recommended pushing the measure forward, said it was a small price to pay.
“We’re not asking for a lot,”Solis said. “We’re being very cautious about the taxpayers.”
The board’s vote was 3-1. Supervisor Don Knabe voted against the measure because a sunset clause that would end the tax in 35 years was eliminated.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich was absent for the vote.
The Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers and Water Conservation Measure would replace funding under Proposition A, first passed more than 20 years ago. The last of that Proposition A funding is set to expire in 2019.
Solis pointed out that the new measure seeks to raise only about $10 million more than the original proposition.
The Department of Parks and Recreation had also considered a 3-cent tax.
Solis said sponsors opted for the lower amount out of conservatism, though polling found no statistically significant difference in support for the two tax rates, according to board documents.
Voters are expected to consider several revenue-generating measures in November, including the Measure R half-cent sales tax for transportation and a statewide measure to renew income tax increases to fund education. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is also pressing for another countywide parcel tax to fight homelessness.
In response to a comment by Solis that the parks tax amounts to less than one Starbucks latte each month, Knabe said voters would consider all the measures together.
“(That’s) not just one latte, it’s an entire Starbucks franchise” Knabe said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authoried Solis’ motion, took a different perspective.
“This is like walking into a Starbucks … and getting anything you want for free, forever,” Kuehl said. “Because the parks are free, the beaches are free.”
In 2014, the board tried to replace Proposition A funding with Measure P, which fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage, with 62.8 percent in favor.
At the time, Ridley-Thomas, who represents the Second District, had pressed for more dollars to be allocated to underserved areas.
“The First District was short-changed,” Solis said of the allocation under Measure P.
The new measure has a greater needs-based component, though 50 percent of dollars raised will go back to the communities where they were raised.
Advocates said parks are about more than play, citing studies that green space can boost health and help keep neighborhoods safe.
The parks assessment found that about 51 percent of county residents do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The incidence of health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease is higher in park-poor communities, said Cynthia Harding, interim director of the county’s public health department.
“Our communities are in dire need of parks,” one single mother told the board, saying parks programs were critical for families who can’t afford private lessons and classes for their children.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations opposed the measure.
Chamber CEO Gary Toebben told the board that transportation and homelessness are the organization’s local priorities and that it wasn’t “strategic” to add another measure to a ballot expected to include 17 state propositions. Toebben also objected to the fact that commercial property owners would pay nearly two-thirds of the total tax raised.
“It’s pretty easy to have a cup of coffee when someone else is paying for it,” Toebben told the board.
A representative for the Motion Picture Association of America warned that the tax could impact future production decisions, saying it would amount to a five-fold increase over what its members currently pay.
Priorities for spending the money — should the measure pass — have been set based on meetings with residents from 188 study areas aimed at identifying each community’s top 10 parks projects. Thirty-five percent of funds will be tagged to pay for those projects.
Another 15 percent will be used to fund parks maintenance in the communities where taxes were levied. Thirteen percent will go to high-needs communities.
Another 13 percent will be used for environmentally-oriented projects, including beach and waterway clean-up; with 13 percent more for regional trail and accessibility projects that connect urban areas to nature.
The balance will go to related job training for youth and veterans and to administrative costs.
Even if the measure passes, the county will only have a fraction of the money needed to complete the $8.8 billion in priority projects identified by the area study groups and another $12 billion in deferred maintenance.
A two-thirds majority of November voters is required for passage.
Pollsters working on behalf of the county government found 69 percent of likely voters were in favor, a number that increased to 75 percent once those polled learned more about the parks measure.