Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gerrymandering Landscape Maintenance District One --- The Death of Proposition 218 by Many "Cuts"

by Jim Farley and Michael Wilkerson

“Gerrymander: to divide the constituencies of (a voting area) so as to give one party an unfair advantage.” 

We watch this occur in redistricting after the census every 10 years. The battle over the unfairness in every “redistricting” plan is unending. 

Now we have a special version for Santa Clarita’s most recent special election.

In this special election, both Landscape Maintenance District 1, the voting area in this case, and the “zones” contained in it (that also contain the voting constituencies, aka voters), were determined by the city. 

Further, the city determined not only the geographic extent of those zones, what “landscape maintenance” would be done in each zone, an estimate of what it would cost to perform that maintenance, but an assignment of each parcel’s share of that cost based on an equivalent benefit unit (EBU) rather than a parcel-based methodology.

Ballots were sent out to about 15,000 property owners — to those parcels decided by the City to be in the “voting area.”

A “yes” vote in this election meant different results for different voters.

There were about 7,000 voters who, if they voted “yes,” were voting either to be brought into a new zone or annexed into another zone, and would begin paying an assessment for the first time.

The remaining 8,000 voters were already paying an assessment in LMD 1. If they voted “yes,” in most cases they would be voting themselves a reduction in their own zone’s assessment and the amount they themselves would pay. 

Because there were seven “customized” ballots with five customized cover letters in the ballot packages received by voters, “yes” voters, voting for their own reductions, had no idea they were imposing a new assessment on others.

Because this was a weighted balloting, meaning that those with larger assessments had more powerful votes than those with smaller assessments the conclusion was all but certain: Those voting “yes” to save, in most cases a small amount, would beat out those voting “no” who did not wish to join the district, receive its proposed benefits, or pay the assessment.

So, because of the way the city managed an old school style of political gerrymandering, the outcome was all but certain. 

The intent of Proposition 218 is to ensure that all property tax assessments are subject to voter approval. But our city has created a methodology that employs the creation of a voting area, the addition of parcels to bring in additional revenue, and ensures passage by mixing up a small reduction to some with an overall increase to many, to get approval (based on a weighted vote), that might be otherwise impossible. 

Thus, by thousands of small (property assessment) cuts, Santa Clarita has found a way around Proposition 218, cynically using its provisions in a manner counter to its intention. They have created a clear path to revenue enhancement unhindered by voter approval for property based tax assessments. 

For more details on how this was done please read below.

One thing is for sure, someone in City Hall knows how to use algebra. That knowledge is not working for the taxpayer in Santa Clarita.

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