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Jim Farley: Thoughts on the city's open-space district

SCV Voices

Posted: October 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: October 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The Signal’s editorial on Sept. 26 raises a toast to the impending purchase of 842 acres in Elsmere Canyon. (“Our View: Here’s to keeping the SCV green.”)

Preserving Elsmere Canyon and keeping it from turning into a landfill has been a great achievement for the city of Santa Clarita.

I also raise my glass to toast all involved to preserve it.

The editorial goes on to say that “$25 a year is a small price to pay for preserving undeveloped land.” It is easy to write off
those opposed to the tax as unreasonable anti-tax fanatics. How can they be opposed to something so important to the city? It’s only $25, right?

As a leader of the only organized opposition to this property tax assessment, I would like to discuss the true costs to the property owners within the city. Let me first clarify that our organization is not anti-tax nor are we against open space. We are against unfair taxation — period.

When the tax expires in 30 years, after $1 per year increases each homeowner will have paid $1,185 in direct costs. (This takes into account that the council chose to not add the dollar last year).

This is the direct money cost. But there are other prices we have paid as well.

When we organized to fight this tax, it was on the basis that it just wasn’t fair to charge those inside the city limits for open space that will provide more of a benefit to those on the edge of the city, and even those outside the city who pay nothing at all.

We later learned that this was also illegal under Proposition 218. Proposition 218 bolsters Proposition 13 by not allowing unfair assessments.

Prop. 218 says that assessments must provide a proportional benefit to all. The illegality of this type of assessment was settled in a case that went to the California Supreme Court.

Only a lawsuit would ultimately prove that our tax is also illegal under the Supreme Court ruling, but legal experts have reviewed our city’s assessment and feel it is clearly illegal based on the decision by the court.

No other assessments of this type have been attempted in California since the ruling, and the only one attempted before the ruling was voted down by the taxpayers in Contra Costa County.

Should we be proud to be the only city in the state with such a questionable tax?

On top of it all, we have paid the price of our city successfully acting without openness in promoting this measure. We still
do not know who funded the campaign.

The city introduced a voting system that gave seven developers a huge voting advantage against the individual homeowners. Those opposed didn’t have a chance.

If you believe that a property-tax assessment is the only way to preserve open space and you don’t care how the city gets it, feel good and sleep well.

If you want openness in government and fair taxation, you should be very disappointed with the city.

The city fooled us once on this — shame on them. Now we know a lot more about their methods on this and are prepared for future attempts to fool us so we do not have to say “shame on us”.

Jim Farley is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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