A group of self-interested and self-serving people has now gathered enough of Laguna Beach’s registered voter’s signatures to force a vote to add another $20 million tax burden to our already heavily burdened real estate taxes.
The stated need for this $20 million special tax obligation is to buy undeveloped property to add to the city’s presently substantial body of undeveloped property. The property that’s proposed to be purchased is privately owned and its real estate taxes and property maintenance are paid by the owners. In a direct sense, the proposed tax is a triple loss proposition: the burden of a $20 million tax is levied on all private property owners, the city loses real estate tax income going forward and the city gains the maintenance obligation going forward.
The parties supporting this $20 million tax burden claim the property targeted for purchase by the city would not only prevent development, but will “complete” the city’s open space lands. A recent disclosure of the property targeted for purchase evidences two realities: they are undeveloped because they are not economically feasible to develop and or the property is unsuitable for development and would not gain city approval.
Perhaps you believe Laguna Beach’s property owners can readily absorb a $20 million tax spread over 20 years. You are mistaken if this is your belief.
Perhaps you are unaware that the city’s budget is running close to empty. The city manager must already rob Peter to pay Paul. Peter’s pockets will soon be empty. City staff positions which are being vacated are being left open. The city cannot afford the personnel to replace all those who have left. City income is declining. A portion of the state’s financial shortfall is already being taken from Laguna’s share of taxes received and a larger portion of the city’s income is mandated to be applied to the city’s underfunded retirement account. When the level of essential city services cannot be sustained to an acceptable level due to a lack of funding, higher taxes will have to be levied.
Open space is undeniably a good thing that can be appreciated by all. However, to obligate ourselves with an unnecessary (some would argue a luxury) 20-year, $20 million tax obligation is unnecessary and imprudent given the public’s current level of debt and its incapacity to both service and pay off debt.
Christopher Toy, Laguna Beach