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LA County voters to decide on new stormwater tax in November

Screens above catch basins near the Tujunga Wash prevent trash from entering drains.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Screens above catch basins near the Tujunga Wash prevent trash from entering drains.

Eligible Los Angeles County voters will get to decide on a new land tax to fund projects that catch, clean and percolate stormwater underground where it can increase the region’s future water supply.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. If two-thirds of voters in the Los Angeles County Flood Control District agree, property owners would be charged a new tax of 2.5 cents for every square foot of land shedding water. That includes roofs, patios, driveways and other hard surfaces.

The tax would add about $83 to the annual property tax bill for owners of a typical parcel of about 6,000 square feet. The actual tax would be calculated for every single parcel based on an aerial survey using equipment known as Lidar, which estimates the square footage of roofs, driveways, patios and other paved surfaces that create water runoff.

Businesses would pay the same 2.5 cents per square foot rate as residential parcels. About two-thirds of the land mass in Los Angeles County holds homes. All property owners, both residential and commercial/industrial, can reduce their tax by installing measures to catch storm runoff.

County officials said the tax, which would raise nearly $300 million a year, is needed to comply with state water quality laws requiring cities and counties to capture, treat and reuse stormwater runoff.

Los Angeles County already captures about one-fifth of the rain that falls in the Los Angeles Basin watershed. Spending the estimated tax revenue, the county could build projects capable of doubling that amount of water. Cleaning stormwater and injecting it underground could reduce the need to import water from the Eastern Sierra in Northern California and the Colorado River.

BizFed, the Los Angeles Business Federation that represents thousands of businesses, opposes the tax.  The group wants to lower or end the tax after 30 years.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.