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Lynne Plambeck: Stand up and protect the taxpayer

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: February 24, 2010 8:41 p.m.
Updated: February 25, 2010 4:55 a.m.
“The public is not your credit card!”

That sign appeared boldly painted in red at the front of a recent tea party rally. I have to say I agree.  

Anger at bailouts for big banks and big corporations; increases in health care costs from companies such as Anthem Blue Cross in spite of huge profits; and poor investments by pension funds that will cost all of us as public agencies are required to make up the losses are causing a rumble of deep-seated anger across the social spectrum.

We all wonder if the federal government will ever be able to overcome the mounting debt.

Now we face a similar situation on the state and city level. While the public struggles to pay its bills, large developers and corporations continue to lobby our city and the state to avoid picking up their fair share of the tab.

They want the public to pay more for the infrastructure required for their projects and eliminate the very laws that enable public oversight.

Local developers complained at a recent city meeting that they could not afford to build on empty lots because of the city fees.

They want the city to reduce those fees.

With thousands of houses in foreclosure and a glut of approvals that will probably take years to sell because of overbuilding in our community, these developers want John Q. Public to open his wallet and pay for the lights, roads, water hookups, etc. for their unsalable projects.

Granted, they didn’t exactly say they wanted you and me to pick up the tab, but if these fees aren’t paid by the developer, that’s exactly what will happen.

Water and sewer connection fees are set on new developments to capture the cost of providing the pipes and finding new water sources, expanding the sewer pipes and putting in curbs, gutters and lighting. If such fees were not charged to the developer, they would instead be added to the cost of our individual water, sewer bills or property tax bills.

Workers do not come out and put pipes in for free; companies don’t make pipes and then give them away. Someone has to pay for them. It shouldn’t be the city taxpayer.

Developers made literally billions of dollars in the good years. But unlike most small businesses — and families that must save to get through the bad years — it seems many of the big fellows instead expect the taxpayer to pick up their losses when they overbuild or make bad investments.

They are allowed to back-credit their losses against previous years’ gains. The government gives our tax money away in rebates to help rid them of their excess inventory. Large credit companies cherry-pick the best of the defaulted loans and leave the dregs for taxpayers to pick up the loss.

It’s a game of “I’ll pat your back with a sweet deal, you pat mine with election dollars in the next city, state or local election.”

Now these same developers want us to get rid of air pollution laws (AB32) and allow projects to avoid the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In a community already suffering some of the worst air pollution in the state — that complained bitterly about the march of high-power electrical lines through our city — it is unthinkable that our City Council would support the revocation of AB32. But this is what the developers have asked them to do.  

Should large development projects be excluded from the Environmental Quality Act, the public would have no means of commenting or encouraging mitigation, and the city would have no legal means of requiring it.

That would mean a huge project could move forward without any guarantee of a water supply, roads or sewers to service it or any of the number of standards that protect our air and water quality. Instead, we taxpayers would once again pick up the costs of the mess that such a development would create.

Large corporations must pay the costs of new development. I have no doubt that my neighbors want laws that provide air pollution controls to clean up our dirty air and encourage new green jobs such as solar roofs. We want projects to have CEQA oversight so we have a say in the kind of development we want for our valley.

So I stand with the tea partiers on this one. “The public is not your credit card!” We don’t want to fund your infrastructure needs and we want CEQA to protect our neighborhoods and our quality of life.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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