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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Publisher’s Notebook

• CWI: The Stealth Initiative •

BY ANNE SOBLE

In light of the lack of public fanfare and attention to the mail-in form to protest the Los Angeles County Clean Water, Clean Beaches Water Quality Funding Initiative, better known as the Clean Water Initiative, or CWI, no one will be surprised if the matter goes to a vote in a similarly inconspicuous manner.
If county politicos are correct, the Board of Supervisors in a few weeks will move ahead with a mail-only ballot on the fee that will apply to all county property owners, even the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and other public organizations and government entities that could face hefty tabs under the measure.
Barring a protest surge or scheduling changes, the mail-only balloting could begin in mid-March and run until early May. Although Malibu does not have any other electoral issues, other cities in the county do, and there is concern that CWI will fall through the cracks in those areas and be approved by a minority turnout.
The initiative is the largest protest hearing process the county has ever undertaken. We agree with its critics that “it should have been as convenient, transparent and open as possible, but unfortunately it did not live up to that,”
Even a key proponent of the initiative is quoted as saying the action is being taken “in an off year when people are asleep, instead of putting it on the general election when people are aware of ballot initiatives.”
It’s not that people object to the ostensible premise of the measure—the L.A. County Flood Control District says fees will be used to treat stormwater runoff and increase groundwater supplies for water consumption.
The fee on single-family homes is supposed to be from $54 to $84 a year based on property size, its use, and the percentage of property that creates water runoff. But some local property owners say they have assessments of several hundred dollars and up. Commercial properties could be hit with several thousand dollars, and government and public entities are looking at six-figure bills that approach a million dollars.
Although the board extension of the protest motion directed the county Department of Public Works to provide a process for placing the CWI on a general election ballot, do up a list of specific clean water projects, explore a sunset date for the measure and develop an alternative way of funding water quality projects, no one is expecting alternatives to materialize.
In addition to the process issues, rumbling is growing that the initiative’s list of projects is becoming a textbook example of pork barrel politics as the measure becomes a catchall for localized projects solicited by groups who could access the funding.
For example, at the CWI website, a sample proposal for Malibu cites a Point Dume Area Land Acquisition described as: “The City of Malibu plans to acquire vacant properties from willing sellers in the Point Dume area in order to further regional water quality objectives.” What is this and where are those properties?
Malibuites are invited to see this week’s article on the Clean Water Initiative in The News and begin to decide for themselves whether this is about improving the environment or a vehicle for local political favors. Additional county information is available at 800-218-0018 or wqfi.info@dpw.lacounty.gov

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