Landscape Maintenance District 37 consists of 961 homes. Of these, about 200 require a high level of irrigation and landscape maintenance due to their size and limited access.
Another 160 require lesser levels of irrigation and landscape maintenance. The final 600 homes receive no services. At least 15 parcels are over one acre (43,560 square feet) with the largest at 27.27 acres. My parcel is 5,757 square feet, and the 120-plus condominiums are even smaller.
Even with this large difference in parcel size and services received, each home is assessed the same. The fair proportionality would be to base the assessment on each parcel’s square footage. Except for the two public schools located in the LMD, all of these parcels are PRIVATE property. The only other public areas are the sidewalks, streets and one median at the entrance to the neighborhood.
There are several parcels in the same proximity to the district but are not parts of the district. These parcels are not assessed even though they receive the same benefit as the 600, which is NONE.
LMD 37 was formed in 1989 when there were 12 parcels. When completed, there were to be 834 residential parcels (not the 961 that exist today).
The engineer’s report states:
“The primary benefits derived from the maintenance of these landscape improvements are the beautification of landscaped and open-spaced areas which are used and/or enjoyed by all the owners and the general enhancement of the property values within the County Hillcrest Estates Development because of the existence of these landscaped and open-spaced areas.”
These are not special benefits. The additional 127 properties the county allowed to be added created a large financial burden for the LMD since many of these required the higher level of irrigation and landscape maintenance.
In November 1996 the voters of California approved Proposition 218 (Right to Vote on Taxes Act). The proposition gave the people more power over the taxes, assessments, and fees that were being levied. Only proportionate special benefits derived by each identified property could be assessed. Also, public property was no longer exempt from being assessed.
The two schools in the LMD are not assessed. This would seem to be in violation of the California Constitution, Article XIIID, Sec. 4 (a).
In 2007, the county wanted to raise the assessment to fund the expansion that they allowed. The increase was rejected by the voters. Instead of reducing the areas to be serviced, the county reduced services by 75 percent.
Although this temporarily kept the LMD solvent, the LMD gradually went into disrepair due to the lack of maintenance.
In 2014, the county again attempted to raise the assessment. This time the county stated that if the assessment was not approved, the areas to be maintained would be reduced to Hillcrest Drive and relinquish the maintenance of remaining areas to the residents of the Hillcrest community.
The increase was rejected but the county did not follow through, leaving the LMD to operate at 75 percent.
In March 2017, the county made a proposal to reduce the size of the area being maintained as they said they would do in 2014 but also to add a Consumer Price Index factor to the existing assessment of $240. A large percentage of attendees, presumably high-maintenance property owners, did not agree with the proposal.
In August 2017, the county said the bids were due and estimated the new assessment to be $585. The new contract would be effective in January 2018 with full services by July 2018. The California Conservation Corps would provide a comprehensive cleanup.
In June 2018, the county said the cleanup project cost $190,000 even though the work was not completed. The new assessment proposal was $655. The county also said that a NO vote would mean that they would detach the LMD and the county would no longer be responsible for any maintenance along Hillcrest Parkway even though the trees along Hillcrest are their parkway trees.
In July 2018, after over 10 years of neglect and fear of losing insurance and increased fire danger caused by that neglect, a YES vote was achieved.
William Halpin is a Castaic resident.