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Residents speak out against parcel tax as committee is prepared to go ahead with new poll. Some members are incensed that others spoke privately to attorneys about levying taxes per square foot.

By Carolanne Sudderth/Ocean Park Gazette

With a huge school budget crisis looming and not willing to settle for failure of voters to pass Measure EE in November, members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Parcel Tax Committee played their cards close to their vests at last night’s meeting.

The committee is attempting to devise a parcel tax that voters are willing to accept, and to have it researched, written and approved by the SMMUSD School Board before the county deadline at the end of January. The new parcel tax proposal would go on to the June 3 ballot. The 53-member plus committee was convened by the SMMUSD last month.

The previously proposed parcel tax would have levied the residents of Malibu, Santa Monica and Topanga $300 per parcel. The measure failed to win the 66 percent needed for passage.

Superintendent John Deasy recommends that the new tax be levied for all residential parcels at $144 per year and all commercial/industrial parcels at $675 per year. He also suggested limiting the tax to six years rather than 12. Also suggested was to exempt people who are 65 years or older. It is estimated the tax would bring in about $6.5 million per year.

Although their rationales differed, both public speakers-one representing Santa Monica and one representing Malibu-stood staunchly against the measure. Malibu resident Gus Hasselquist, 76, alleged that any kind of flat tax is inequitable and unfair, and claimed that any new tax should be assessed on property values rather than on a per parcel basis.

His own small house, he said, sits on four parcels of land, which, per Measure EE, would have cost him $1,200 per year.

“Yet the Malibu Bay Company has these huge parcels of 18 to 19 acres in the heart of Malibu, and they’re worth millions. And yet I’m forced to pay four times what these multimillionaires are? It’s crazy,” he said. “Why should we poor people have to pay for benefits-even subsidize-these rich people?”

Committee member Dennis Zane asked him if he would feel better if they put through a senior exemption-Hasselquist said that would be fine.

Addressing his comments to the Santa Monica side of things, resident Gene Rink addressed the city’s priorities and alleged that its lack of responsibility to the schools is “outrageous and disheartening.”

“We see the money being spent,” he said. “They’ve got the money to tear up Broadway, put new lights on Pico and put the prettiest stones in to decorate the crosswalks. We pay the bills, and what is the city doing for the residents?”

Ralph Mechur, co-chair of the legal subcommittee, said that earlier this week he and Chris Harding, a member of the Financial Oversight Committee, met with the district’s attorneys, Melveney and Meyers, “to talk about a tax that might be supportable.”

At last week’s meeting, suggestions to base the proposed measure on square footage rather than per parcel were rejected by Superintendent John Deasy as illegal, although such a process is currently in place in both Berkeley and Davis, California.

Mechur said the attorneys’ answer was nebulous at best. “The attorney we met with is basically going to do further research and get back to us-hopefully within a week,” he said.

Inside sources later claimed that more than one member of the legal committee took umbrage at the fact that they had not been noticed of the meeting with the attorneys-let alone invited to participate.

Following those reports and public comment, the group almost immediately split into subcommittees, which met behind closed doors.

The target date for presentation to the school board is Jan. 23. Members tried to push that back a week, Committee Chair Neill Carrey advised against waiting until the last minute.

“It has been my experience that the school board doesn’t want things brought to [it] in its final form.”

Nevertheless, the committee is going ahead with the poll. The committee approved a motion that, in the interest of time, members of the polling committee and the other subcommittee chairs compile questions. General committee members will have no input.

“It’s just too unwieldy,” committee member Rochelle Finali said.