REAL ESTATE: Could Big Brown-Out Be Coming to Section of La Verne?

June 11, 2010
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Could all this be turning brown?

Could all this be turning brown?

Before the June 8 primary election this week, there was another important vote that may ultimately have a bigger impact on La Verne than who residents think will make the best Governor, U.S. Senator or 59th District assembly person.

On Monday, June 7, the City of La Verne tallied the ballots of homeowners from Rancho La Verne (an area roughly from Baseline at Via Ranch La Verne north to Birdie Drive and from Wheeler Avenue east to Orangewood) to learn whether or not they supported a fee increase of $72.15 to maintain their Landscape Maintenance District 4-1 Zone’s green spaces.

Of the 538 ballots distributed by the city, 297 were marked and returned by mail or person to the City Clerk by the deadline, Monday, June 7. Of those 297 marked and returned ballots, five were disqualified (inadequate verification, non-corresponding parcel numbers, etc.), leaving 292 valid ballots.

Of those 292 valid ballots, 152 opposed the proposed increase from $141.85 per year to $214 a year. A total of 140 property owners supported it.

Before the vote, the City had stated in a letter to all residents within the zone that “if a majority of the property owners vote against the increase, the City of La Verne will be forced to make cuts. This means there will be less landscape maintenance, watering, and most turf (grass) will be removed and replaced.”

In the wake of the thumbs-down vote, City staff will make recommendations on exactly what those cuts will look like and present them in the form of a resolution at the upcoming city council meeting on June 21, 2010.

As news of the results began spreading through the Rancho La Verne assessment district, property owners had various reactions, mirroring the closeness of the election, with just 12 votes separating the two sides. Of those LaVerneOnline interviewed, only one chose to give his name. One who responded, but not for attribution, said he didn’t know how his neighbors felt, so he chose anonymity as the better part of discretion. Others simply chose to make no comment.

By voting the assessment fee increase, residents may have to get used to less landscape maintenance, and most common grass areas could be removed or replaced.

By voting the assessment fee increase, residents may have to get used to less landscape maintenance, and most common grass areas could be removed or replaced.

Peeking out from her door, one homeowner who didn’t support the increase said, “The city should be able to cover it (the shortfall). It’s just ridiculous. To cut the grass and water the lawn, how much more should that cost?”

When LaVerneOnline mentioned that rates had not been raised in almost 25 years, she replied, “That’s just a sales job (by the city).”

At a nearby house in the assessment district, homeowners also didn’t support the increase.

“Everybody has to take a hit,” said the man who answered the door. “I work for government. We’re taking budget cuts, just like everybody else. I’ve had to forgo pay increases. I’ve had to forgo some other job actions in the better interest of city government, and we’re seeing that throughout California and the nation. Everybody has to take the hit, so if we have to take the hit on our scenery, then that’s what we got to do. If we have to go to more drought-tolerant plants, or something like that, then that’s what we need to do.”

At that point, his wife came to the door

“I know for sure that two of my neighbors go out there (to a common green area) and do watering and plant flowers on their own and out of their own pocket. They’re carrying five-gallon buckets out there to keep the area green.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, conceding that she likes the current condition of her neighborhood district. “I wish it could continue that way, but we have to look at other ways of making this work.”

Another neighbor, Faryl Fletcher, thought it was ironic that so many homeowners in the district watered their lawns daily, but were now, by opposing the increase, voting to turn common green areas brown or to have them be replaced altogether.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t vote for it (the fee increase) because they’re wasting water every day,” said Fletcher, who voted for the hike. “Do we want our whole city’s landscape to turn brown? I don’t think they anticipate what it’s going to look like.”

Another woman on the same street supported Fletcher. “I think it’s important to keep up the community,” she said. “It increases and maintains the value of the homes. Once it (the common area) goes brown, people will start complaining and they’ll be at the city council meeting, asking what they’re going to do about it.”

Some other homeowners simply weren’t aware of the debate or the vote. Told that people in his district had just voted down a proposed increase to maintain the common green areas in his neighborhood,” he said, “That’s too bad.”

When he asked how much the proposed increase was and learned it was $72.15 a year,” he added, “”I think it’s foolish that people turned it down.”

Several people simply declined to comment.

The last property owner La Verne Online interviewed supported the increase. “I’ll give you my name; no, let’s go anonymous. I don’t know how my neighbors feel,” he said.

“We voted in favor of it,” he continued. “I just felt it would keep our property values enhanced. We were sort of thinking of putting our house on the market and moving back east, so I wanted to keep our house valued at the highest possible price.

“One of the great appeals of this area is all of our green space,” he added. “That’s what brought me out to this area in the first place. I was willing to part with a little extra money — not that I can afford it or that anyone else can — but I didn’t want to see it go brown. I didn’t know if that (cutting services, including water) was a threat by the city or if it was a reality. So, I took the higher ground.

“Let’s face it, they haven’t’ raised rates since 1986.”

As for the service and what he thinks he’s getting for his money, he said, “I see them (work crews) out here all the time. They come out every Tuesday. They start not too early in the morning, but I see them working their mowers from the top all the way down to the bottom, and it’s usually not until mid-afternoon when they are basically pretty much done. And there’s always four or five guys edging, mowing, blowing. I’ve even seen them do tree work, trimming the trees.”

As a result of the vote, however, there may be less edging, mowing and blowing or even grass to cut in the future.

The first glimpse of what Rancho La Verne’s future could look like will be shared on June 21. If you live in the neighborhood, you might want to drop by City Hall at 6:30 p.m. for a closer look.

Reported June 11, 2010

2 Responses to “REAL ESTATE: Could Big Brown-Out Be Coming to Section of La Verne?”

  1. Marty, it is not like the City of La Verne is broke. It has $7 million in a suplus account in the general fund, and $28 million in off-budget account for use at its discretion, all revealed in its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which I had to obtain by paying $25 for it (city was reluctant to provide it). It is good La Verne has conservative government and has stashed money away for rainy days. It is not good when government hides that money from residents. The city will experience an anticipated $1.7 million shortfall this year (revenues vs expenses) and has problems (as all cities do) with meeting pension fund requirements. City Hall says it is asking for early retirement, paring jobs (175 city workers) and cutting back on other expenses. This is only the beginning. The annual shortfall will likely grow larger as more homes go into foreclosure. I have strongly suggested the city seek some way to contact home lenders and demand the principal be marked down on homes purchased in the last 8 years by -30%, which would keep homeowners in their homes. B of A did this recently. Otherwise the city will face a growing glut of empty homes and no tax revenues. So far, La Verne has low unemployment rate (~5%) and the high unemployment rates (~14 to 20%) are in blue-collar areas. So this gives the city some reprieve. But the State of California is likely to declare bankruptcy in July or thereafter, defaulting on its debt and having to renegotiate employment contracts and pensions. However, the State of California also has off-general budget funds, to the tune of $800+ billion, which it could use to start its own State Bank and avert bankruptcy. The public has no idea the State of California almost has a trillion in the bank. Even though these funds are designated, they can be used as reserves for loans, etc. Lots of game playing here.


    Besides the increase, they also added a provision for future annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index up to 3% per year.

    Clearly, the City had no authority to include a provision for a permanent annual increase. The voters must approve every increase, every time. This is a veiled attempt to circumvent the provisions of the Constitution and deny us the right to vote on EVERY tax increase.

    This should not have been included and may be unconstitutional. The California Constitution Article 13D Sec. 1 states that:

    “Nothing in this article…shall be construed to: (a) Provide any new authority to any agency to impose a tax, assessment, fee, or charge.”

    Article 13D Sec. 5 states that:

    “Beginning July 1, 1997, all existing, new, or increased assessments shall comply with this article.”

    Article 13D Sec 4 sets forth the “Procedures and Requirements for All Assessments.” They include:

     All parcels receiving a special benefit shall be identified.
     Parcels…owned or used by any agency, the State of California or the United States shall not be exempt from assessment…(This includes the City, Metropolitan Water District, LA County Flood Control District, Bonita Unified School District and Hughes Development Corporation who should be levied for the assessment unless they prove they receive no benefit from the assessment.)
     All assessments or increases must be supported by a detailed engineer’s report.
     Each owner must be given written notice stating the date, time and location of the public hearing; a summary of the procedures for completing, returning and tabulating ballots; and a disclosure statement that a majority protest means the assessment cannot be imposed.
     The ballot shall include the City’s address, the owners’ name and parcel identification and a place to indicate opposition or support.

    Voters may have noticed another little “trick” of having you vote In Favor of Assessment Increase & Maintaining Existing Level of Service vs. Oppose Assessment Increase & IN FAVOR OF REDUCING LEVEL OF SERVICE. There was the implied threat to reduce level of service if you oppose the increase.

    And now, if we are correct in our assessment that the City will make good on their threat to “brown down” the District by cutting the level of service, you may see some residents become a bit unhappy with the City Council.

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