Residents revolt against parcel tax


Led by a KABC talk show host, protestors say the special assessment to be used to buy open land and help with brush clearance, was “snuck by” voters.

By Laura Tate/Editor

Property owners are revolting against a special assessment levied on parcels within certain zones nearby the Santa Monica Mountains range, and are specifically targeting the executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The special assessment was established after ballots were mailed to Los Angeles residents in June 2002 asking them if they wanted to establish two separate assessment districts, and if property owners wanted to assess themselves $40 per year for 30 years to “fund the acquisition and preservation of nearby open space and parkland, and to annually clear brush to reduce fire hazards.”

Led by KABC talk show host Doug McIntyre, the protestors say the assessment was “snuck” through by SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston’s group.

McIntyre spoke at the SMMC’s board meeting Monday night at the Renaissance Hotel in Agoura Hills.

“Educated in the arcane and Byzantine law of property assessments, foreclosure and seizures, Joe Edmiston and this board have created a Robert Moses-like mountain top empire that advances its agenda within the letter of the law, but outside any acceptable moral tradition of American self-government,” McIntyre said at the meeting.

According to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), a public state agency established to preserve open space and that manages 50,000 acres of land and parks that it owns and land owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, voters “overwhelmingly” approved the assessment by a weighted majority of more than 77 percent in District 1 (property located east of the 405 Freeway to Griffith Park, and including Bel Air, Studio City and Sherman Oaks), and 68 percent in District 2 (west of the 405 Freeway to the Calabasas border, including property as far south as Pacific Palisades and Brentwood).

But protestors say only 22 percent of property owners responded to the mailed ballot and that most believed the ballot to be junk mail, thus threw it away.

Others who did read the ballot say the language was confusing, with the possibility of a “no” vote meaning “yes” to the tax, and vice versa.

Also, protestors said the MRCA letter explaining the tax put misleading sentences in bold. The sentences, they said, if glanced at briefly, led the reader to believe that payment of the tax is optional.

Agnes Peterson of Malibu whose son lives in her former home in Woodland Hills, within District 2, wrote, in an e-mail to the Times, she first noticed the assessment of $40 for “fire prevention” on her property tax bill. She wrote that she also received a notice from the MRCA of a “Fixed Lien Assessment of $562.75 against my property to pay for ‘acquisition of open space.'”

She said she was assured that this was just “lawyer talk” when she called the number provided with the notice.

On the MRCA Web site, it explains that the “fixed lien assessment” is “entirely optional” and if property owners did not want to pay the total fixed lien amount, an annual assessment of “not more than $40 will continue to be collected on your property tax bill.”

Peterson also wrote she was puzzled to find that her tax bill said the money was for fire prevention and that the assessment notice from the MRCA said it was for purchasing land. Peterson did not vote because she said did not receive the ballot, and noted that she does not “usually have problems losing tax bills …” At Monday’s SMMC meeting, which she attended, Peterson wrote, “more and more property owners stood up to say they had not received the ballot. I came to the conclusion that it’s most likely that the ballots had only been sent to some property owners.”

McIntyre, a self-described centrist who hosts the KABC midnight to 5 a.m. Red Eye Radio talk show, said in a phone interview Tuesday night he learned about the tax when he received his property tax bill in the mail. He spoke about the tax on the radio show early Thursday morning. Edmiston called in to the show around 2 a.m. McIntyre said. Prior to Edmiston’s call, he had never met or heard of him before.

McIntyre said the conversation started “calmly, but soon became an acrimonious conversation,” and that Edmiston was “condescending.”

McIntyre said he has received more than “500 e-mails in frustration over the tax,” and that a small minority, 1 percent, were in support of it.

The radio show host said he is not opposed to open space, but “I’m opposed to stealth elections.”

“It was a rogue election … the most fraudulent election I’ve seen in my life,” he said Tuesday night.

McIntyre’s objections are not solely against the tax, but against Edmiston, the SMMC and MRCA as well.

“The key to the [SMMC’s] empire is to divide and conquer,” McIntyre said. (The park service divides California into 7,000 separate districts.)

“The [SMMC/MRCA people] aren’t elected by anyone,” he continued. “There is zero accountability.”

At the Monday SMMC meeting, McIntyre said, “After 23 years of dining at the public troth with zero accountability, it is time for Joe to go. There will be no more stealth elections. There will be no more cash grabs at the expense of homeowners for the benefit of select developers and the political allies of this board. There will be no more trampling the rights of homeowners so an elite few can conspire … to help themselves to more of our hard-earned money. You may have won this round, but I promise you, this fight has just begun.”

Edmiston could not be reached for this story.

Columbine Goldsmith contributed to this story.