James V. Farley | An Open Letter on the Lighting Debate

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An Open Letter to the Property Owners and City Council of Santa Clarita.

To the Property Owners:

This week ballots were mailed to select property owners for an election to change property tax assessment rates in some landscape and lighting zones in the city.

This ballot is very confusing to say the least.

With my past experience in this area, my review of the engineer’s report, and discussions with city Special Districts Manager Kevin Tonoian, I can now share my better understanding of what this is all about.

This balloting is a consolidated polling of property owners in 21 landscape maintenance zones and one streetlighting zone.

Each zone is voting for either an increase or decrease in the assessment amount for that zone. Some property owners are only voting on their landscape zone, some are only voting on their streetlighting zone, some are voting on both.

In the landscape zones, 19 are voting for a decrease, two for an increase. In the single streetlighting zone the voting is for a significant increase from $12.38 per EBU (parcel) to $81.71. The reasons for the assessment changes between the landscaping zones and the streetlighting zone are a big deal.

The decreases in the landscape zones are because the city is removing the expense for maintaining parks that have been part of the assessments.

It is my opinion that this expense should never have been considered a “special benefit” under Proposition 218, and should never have been assessed to the property owners. It is a good thing to remove this expense from the property owner and fund it through the general fund. If that were all this balloting was about, the discussion would be over.

The reason for the increase in the streetlighting zone is completely different.

The city is consolidating Zones A and B into one Zone, Zone B. This zone has about 58 percent of the streetlights in the city. The city will be buying the streetlights from Southern California Edison and taking on their maintenance.

I have not delved deeply into how the increase adds up to the $81.71. My focus is on the egregious methodology of the election that virtually assures this balloting will pass no matter how many in Zone B vote “No.”

All the property owners in the landscape zones getting a decrease are likely to vote “Yes.” Who doesn’t want a decrease in their taxes?

What the majority don’t know is that their “Yes” vote is also a vote for the streetlighting zone increase, even if they are not in that zone.

Additionally, Prop. 218 requires each ballot to be weighted by the dollar amount of their assessment. For example, I live in Northbridge – Landscaping Zone T46.

My assessment, and the weight of my ballot is $831.17. When you look at the ballot weighting across all the landscape zones, versus the $81.71 weight of the single streetlighting zone you can see what those property owners are up against. Their vote will likely be swamped by the tsunami of heavily weighted “Yes” landscape zone votes.

As I told the City Council, this stinks to high heaven. That the city engineered this balloting so we are voting on two different things on one ballot is unconscionable. It is impossible to know for sure the outcome of this balloting, but the streetlighting voter is at a huge disadvantage because of it being coupled with the landscape issue.

I encourage all voters to vote “No” whether you are getting a decrease or an increase. Now that we know what this is about it is the right thing to do.

To the Santa Clarita City Council:

After Allen Ferdman, Steven Petzold and I addressed you in last Tuesday’s meeting (Dec. 11), there was agreement on your part about just how confusing this balloting was.

When the city manager called up Kevin Tonoian to answer questions on this he was really called to task on this by you. You also discussed possible mitigating measures, such as getting clarifying information out to the voter. The problem with that is that voters have the ballots in hand and are likely already sending them in with the lack of the information they need to make a good decision. 

This is the proverbial tale of closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped.

A very big question for you all is if you were so diligent in scapegoating the special districts manager on Tuesday, why were you not inquiring about this on Nov. 13 when you unanimously approved this balloting after being provided the full information about it?

Where you not just as confused then? Or is it you really did not do your due diligence in understanding what you were voting on?

I believe it is the latter.

The bottom line is that you own this and you were not looking out for the citizens in Santa Clarita on Nov. 13 when you voted to approve it.

Being we are in the Christmas season I have a bit of coal for some of your stockings. To the three members who were on the council seven years ago when a very similar balloting and methodology scheme happened, you really own this. Red flags should have gone up the moment you saw this on the agenda.

Bob Kellar, when I addressed this at that time you even admonished the assistant city manger to not let this happen again. Well, here it is, happening again on your approval.

Bill Miranda, you stated this was a good thing but just was not marketed to the people properly. This is not a good thing. It is a turd. When a bow is put on a turd, it’s still a turd.

Marsha McLean, you touted as a mandate to be chosen mayor the number of citizens who voted for your re-election. How is this in any way looking out for those citizens so soon after your election?

Laurene Weste, it was very fitting you received the 40 calls from folks asking what this was all about in the two days after their ballots came. If you had done your due diligence and studied this before voting for it, those calls would never have happened.

The best remediation you all could do right now would be to terminate this whole mess. I’m not sure if that is even possible now.

At the very least you can take the ownership you have of this and not put it all on city staff.

James V. Farley
Valencia

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