Christopher Lucero | Clear and Present Danger on Ballot

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Nobody wants to pay for something that mostly benefits others who are not paying their full measure for the service they receive. That is the underlying discontent with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act individual mandate to participate. The fact of insurance of any form is, however, that it is a bet against misfortune: We hope to never need to collect on it. Thus, with any insurance scheme or social construct, we expect to pay for something we never want to need or use, but we do expect fair representation for our participation.

All social constructs face this same fact: They spread costs to homogenize and pool the benefits. Civilization has wrought decent systems to allay and amend misfortunes of many types. Problems arise when the perceived benefits accrue to the few at the expense of the many, which, though a fact of insurance, is a reasonable and prudent way to manage any social welfare system.

All California voters will face a “split roll initiative” in November modifying the original Proposition 13, a measure proposing to reverse the assessment limitations imposed by the original measure. This will predictably lead to higher state and county revenues where those assessments are used to calculate the property owners’ share of state and county social construct costs. Reasonably, there is need for alarm when an institutionalized taxpayer protection is set to be eliminated. The new measure is opposed by commercial property developers and owners and they will no doubt fight back against reassessments with their legal resources, making the measure hard to implement, potentially stillborn, and a somewhat distant threat.

The following argument is provided based on principle only, since I calculate that the impact to me is small and manageable. 

Measure FD is a proposed new levy on property in L.A. County special assessment districts. Measure FD will not await reassessment, and will nearly double the levy on both commercial and residential property owners. Compared to The New 13, Measure FD is a more clear and present danger to taxpayers in those special districts. It will add a new 6-cent-per-square-foot levy to the current 6.3-cent-per-square-foot existing levy. It will also reduce benevolent escape clauses for seniors.

Measure FD is opposed by the California Taxpayer Association. Fire personnel really do not attend structure fires (the tax base) very often and mostly tend traffic and other emergent situations (like containment of wildland fires, of which such lands pay no tax). Likewise, subsidizing far-off emergencies, even in other countries, let alone cities or states, is a debatable practice. Thus, property owners pay for “fire protection and response,” a diminishingly low-frequency event, and instead receive services unrelated to property ownership such as wildfire containment, vehicle accidents, “foreign” emergencies and ambulance escort.

County taxpayers are already levied for fire service for their property, but most “fire” service is not related to structure fires or any kind of oxygenation of fuel. L.A. County Fire amalgamates its statistics into a “call frequency” rate, and does not provide detailed data on the nature of calls, making it impossible to quantify risk from a property owner’s perspective.

We can examine L.A. City Fire website detail data on calls, where LAFD notes, “(1)Structure Fire: The call type is specifically reserved when the LAFD receives a report of a building or structure that is actively burning. Due to the low frequency, these metrics will be reported on a quarterly basis.” That is, these incidents are such low frequency that LAFD moves them to statistical insignificance.

Again, nobody wants to pay for something that mostly benefits others who are not paying their full measure for the service they receive. Property owners in the mostly urban and suburban special assessment districts are paying for attention to automotive mishaps, ambulance escort and wildfire containment that are somewhat irrelevant to their property or its assessed value.

At a minimum the county Fire Department could stop amalgamating its statistics.

A more welcome L.A. County measure to retire/reassign assets in “fire” services to more appropriately named services (automotive traffic response, wildlands containment response) would be more directly representative of the real-world service provided. The cumbersome, bulky equipment that currently responds to these incidents could be retired. Specialized units could be developed and provisioned to respond more appropriately to these incidents.

Imagine response units based strategically near high-traffic roadways that could clear a freeway/roadway incident in minutes rather than hours. That would be a greater benefit to local businesses and individuals.

Imagine deploying local resources to neighborhoods (fire hose, hydrant wrenches, automated external defibrilators) to enable citizens to resolve local incidents of structure fire or heart attack. That could happen immediately with nearly no fiscal or procedural impact to the taxpayer.

L.A. County has already demonstrated its expansive and opaque provision of safety and response bureaucracies. In 2002, L.A. county voters approved Measure B, the “Emergency Medical Services, Trauma Centers and Bioterrorism Response.” This measure doubled the county tax revenues devoted to safety and response, a category under which fire services are apportioned. Twelve years later the California State Auditor assessed the institutional results in a February 2014 report titled “Los Angeles County, Lacking a Comprehensive Assessment of Its Trauma System, It Cannot Demonstrate That It Has Used Measure B Funds to Address the Most Pressing Trauma Needs.”

A PDF of the proposed measure shows it to be alarmingly brief, loose and repetitive, even within its nine-page, double-spaced, 1.5-inch margin text. That is a formula for taxation disaster.

California taxpayers are already suffering from the institution of President’s Trump’s limits on deductibility of state and local taxes. This increase will salt that wound.

The Signal examined the salivation of Sacramento politicians at the potential for The New 13 passage. Consider the potential passage of BOTH measures. The Fire Department will double the revenue from special assessment districts to administer to safety and response services if Measure FD passes. If The New 13 passes, reversing Prop. 13 limits on assessment basis for commercial property, it will amplify the Measure FD increase, through ballooning assessed values. Additionally, without organized representation, property owners in these special districts will be unlikely to craft a legal defense against Measure FD of a scale that commercial property owners might avail against The New 13. 

Christopher Lucero is a Saugus resident.

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