The Metropolitan Forum Project Reviving Citizen Civic Engagement

Planners seek to ease Prop. 13 rules

Orange County Register

By Jim Wasserman
The Associated Press

February 1, 2003

SACRAMENTO - Representatives of nearly 5,000 California urban, environmental and transportation planners say they'll fight this year for changes in Proposition 13 to raise more money for parks, transit-oriented growth and farmland preservation.

The state's planners say they want the Legislature to allow local voters to raise taxes or approve bonds for specific projects with 55 percent votes instead of the two-thirds majority required by the 1978 tax measure.

Characterizing it as a modest change, planners said it would raise money to stimulate highways, transit, housing and parks in existing cities and spare working farms from development.

All are "things that make a nice community," said Sande George, executive director of the California chapter of the American Planning Association.

Already, voters have approved a 55 percent majority to pass bonds for new schools in California.

But opponents of higher taxes said expanding a 55 percent majority vote for other needs would be a "disaster" for millions of property owners.

"If you lower the two-thirds vote requirement, you are essentially allowing those who don't own property to levy taxes on those who do," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Jarvis, who died in 1986, co-wrote Prop. 13, which greatly limited California property taxes by requiring two-thirds votes on new taxes. It also froze residential property taxes at 1 percent of a home's assessed value and said a homeowner's taxes could rise no more than 2 percent a year.

But the Sacramento-based coalition of government and private-sector planners maintains Prop. 13 has confused the state's tax system, disrupted state development patterns to encourage sprawl and created a severe housing shortage.

"There's not a lot of incentive for cities to build houses, because in very few instances do you generate enough revenue from housing to cover the cost of providing services to that housing," said Vince Bertoni, a Santa Clarita city planner.

Bertoni, legislative director for the APA's California chapter, said many tax-starved cities resist building new houses and fight each other for stores and sales taxes.

"Clearly, our revenue system is broken," Bertoni said.

But planners face tremendous obstacles changing a tax system still widely supported by taxpayers and legislators who represent them.

A major reform bill last year aiming to jump start more housing by sharing sales taxes among neighboring cities died. So did another asking the state to give cities a bigger share of their own property taxes.

Planners also pledged during 2003 to fight plans by Gov. Gray Davis to cut funds for farmland preservation and central-city redevelopment. Davis has proposed cuts in both programs to fight the state's $34.8 billion budget deficit.

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