The Santa Clarita City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday effecting voter-approved changes to the city’s landscape maintenance district.
While one spoke in favor, three members of the public questioned the process the city used to add 5,957 parcels to its landscape maintenance district. Now 87 percent of homes and businesses, versus the previous 76 percent, will pay for the upkeep of medians, street trees, paseos and similar amenities in the public right-of-way.
Under the change, fees for most homeowners are reduced, in some cases by 50 percent or more. Property owners in different parts of town pay different amounts, based on the landscaping benefit they receive – and property owners in zones earmarked for a reduction apparently outvoted homeowners who will be paying fees for the first time.
Ballots mailed in July to 16,879 property owners had a 36 percent return rate. Weighted by assessment, 56 percent voted “yes” and 44 percent voted “no.”
Newhall and other newly added areas “should have been given the (separate) opportunity to vote down the assessment and the landscaping amenity that came with it,” resident Jim Farley said.
City Treasurer Darren Hernandez said Proposition 218 requires fees to be proportional to the benefit. Previously, residential parcels within a zone paid the same rate as commercial parcels, even though commercial parcels tended to receive a greater benefit from the improvements.
Hernandez said although a simple rate reduction wouldn’t require a vote of affected property owners, the change the city wanted to make to its rate-setting methodology required a vote of the entire district.
Councilman Bob Kellar noted that subsequent to a public hearing two weeks ago, homeowners in the Friendly Valley retirement community were freed from new assessments next year. They wouldn’t be assessed until July 2013, and only then with City Council approval.
Kellar said he wanted to see “some action to prevent this kind of conflict in the future” so that the votes of residents facing new fees wouldn’t be outweighed by voters getting a cut.
Hernandez assured him future changes could be presented in “more bite-sized pieces to make sure they don’t include such a large area.”