LA County voters could be asked to approve new tax for water projects

The Los Angeles River  flows past the Atwater Village neighbourhood during a rain storm in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 2017.   / AFP / Konrad Fiedler        (Photo credit should read KONRAD FIEDLER/AFP/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles River flows past the Atwater Village neighbourhood during a rain storm in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 2017. / AFP / Konrad Fiedler (Photo credit should read KONRAD FIEDLER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles County voters have said yes in recent months to new taxes to fund transportation, parks and services for the homeless. On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors took a step toward asking voters for a new tax to fund stormwater management projects.

A parcel tax, if approved by voters sometime next year, would fund projects to capture more rain and percolate it underground so it can be used to augment drinking water supplies. Last winter was the second wettest winter in California history. But only a fraction of the rain that fell in Los Angeles County is captured to percolate into the ground and recharge aquifers.

County Public Works projects capture enough rain water to serve the annual needs 1.5 million residents, but with the right projects, officials think they could double or triple that amount. That could be enough water for about one-third of the county’s residents.

It's so early in the planning process that county officials don’t know how much money they want to raise. But they do  know how they want to raise it: A parcel tax that would be paid by homes and businesses.

To decide how much would be raised and how much each property owner would be responsible to pay requires a lot more study. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for its staff to research a parcel tax and report back by February.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl described the parcel tax drive as a “legacy issue” for the Board, one that could make a huge difference in the county’s future water self-reliance. Hahn said the regional need could be as much as $20 billion over 20 years, based on an analysis by the county Department of Public Works.

Four months ago, Kuehl announced that she wanted to introduce a countywide measure to fund additional stormwater capture and management projects. In April the county Board of Supervisors called for the creation of a water resilience plan intended to reduce reliance on imported water and increase the supply of local water. Tuesday's motion was co-authored by Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Kuehl said water capture measures planned for next year could cost up to $90 million, and that creating a new funding source for the projects would relieve pressure on the county’s general fund, which is how they would be paid for otherwise.

A number of local officials and water advocates spoke in favor of increasing local funding for upgrading the region’s stormwater management.


Tree People executive director Cindy Montanez said more money for stormwater capture would also have other benefits for local residents, including more tree canopy, leading to better shade and reducing the heat

Aspects of a parcel tax must still be worked out, such as which parcels might be exempt from the tax, and where the tax money would be used.

Mike Lewis of L.A. BizFed, which represents area employers,  told the board that any tax that is imposed should be applied to atll parcels, with no exceptions. Religious institutions, non-profits and governmental entities like schools are generally tax-exempt.

During a public hearing, Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean cautioned the supervisors that some cities already charge taxes or fees for stormwater management projects and that credit should be given so those property owners are not double-charged. 

Several advocates for the Ballona Wetlands near Marina del Rey -- which is one of the last places that stormwater passes on its way to the ocean -- urged the supervisors to keep funds from a parcel tax from being used to dredge the wetlands.

Environmental activist Joyce Dillard criticized the proposal as “a rain tax,” and dismissed the supervisors’ motion to educate and engage with water stakeholders as a pro-tax campaign in disguise.