Residents of the Hillcrest area in Castaic met Wednesday night to discuss a Los Angeles County ballot mailed out this month regarding their landscaping concerns — which could have a major impact on property values in the area.
Residents of what the county refers to for such purposes as Landscape Maintenance District 37, which surrounds Hillcrest Parkway, have until July 24 to vote. The decision: whether they want the county to continue maintaining their overgrown hillsides, at the cost of increasing their annual fee from $240 to $655. The new contract would go into effect in September 2018, and account for deferred maintenance, renovation of the center median at The Old Road and Hillcrest Parkway and rehabilitation of planted material and irrigation systems.
If residents vote no, the county will detach the zone from its Landscape Maintenance Districts program after one year. Individual property owners would become fully responsible for the landscape maintenance.
Fees that property owners pay to maintain the landscape have not been raised in over 20 years.
More than 200 people attended the county’s presentation and Q&A on Wednesday at Castaic Middle School, said resident Laura Laughlin.
Some homeowners, such as resident Cindy Gonzales, raised concerns that insurance companies had been cancelling policies because overgrown brush and trees posed fire hazards.
Previously, the residents had voted “no” on the issue in 2007 and 2014, said Castaic resident Ingrid Riederer, who also co-founded the group “Keep Hillcrest Green” to address the landscaping issue. The rise in the fee is to account for the fact that the fixed cost residents pay hasn’t been adjusted since the district was formed in 1990.
Until 2014, most residents had no idea what they were voting on due to lack of clarification from the county, Laughlin said.
“In the mail, it would say, ‘Do you want to raise your taxes? Find out more at a community meeting,’” she said. “And only a few people went to those meetings, and they found out if it doesn’t pass, we were in danger of the county detaching us from the district.”
Lani Alfonso, principal engineer with the Public Works Department, said the county was detaching the zone because of the rising costs.
“What we’re collecting as far as assessments is no longer enough to cover the cost of maintenance,” she said. “If the voters vote no, the proposal from the county is to detach the zone and return the maintenance to individual owners. It’s no longer financially sustainable. Maintenance cannot be (financially) scaled back further without performing no maintenance at all.”
If the initiative fails, individual homeowners will be in charge of landscaping their own properties that are currently part of the LMD, but that could create a ripple effect in the community, Laughlin said.
“If your neighbor can’t afford to repipe his home, the whole neighborhood’s property value is going to go down,” she said. “So you can’t just look at it as how much it costs to take care of your own square of land.”
Some residents in the “Keep Hillcrest Green” Facebook group expressed skepticism over why the county hadn’t notified them earlier of the need for fee increases. However, county officials have been working for more than a year in an effort to reach the most residents possible for the pending vote. Others said paying the county more felt like a risk, when they were currently not doing a good job, Laughlin said. L.A. County officials reduced the level of service after the last failed attempt to raise the landscaping fees in 2014, as they could not financially maintain it.
The county plans to hold a hearing July 24 at the Board of Supervisors meeting in the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles, by which time all ballots would be due.