Water is hot these days. Blame global warming. We’ve voted on several ballot props recently about water, including Prop 3 discussed in this guide. Measure W has a unique contribution to make. It would fund projects to grow our local water supply and keep it safe and clean by imposing a small tax on the square footage of a property owner’s land which is impermeable, i.e. paved driveways and concrete patios that storm water can’t seep through.
It’s no secret that California faces a growing water crisis. Climate change is decreasing the average annual amount of precipitation California receives while creating huge swings in precipitation from one year to the next and altering its geographic distribution. Los Angeles, for example, can expect to receive less water from the Sierras’ melting snow- pack, but the amount of rain locally is projected to remain the same. The bad news is that almost none of that rain is currently captured for use. Instead, 90% of it flows into the ocean via street sewer drains and concrete-lined river channels. That’s more than 100 billion gallons of storm water annually, which brings with it 4,200 tons of trash and pol- lutants. This is not acceptable.
By imposing a tax of 2.5 cents each year for every square foot of impermeable land, Los Angeles County will incentivize the use of permeable materials on residential and commercial prosperity, including both artificial materials and organic solutions like mulch and plant-based covering.
Even more important, the tax would raise approximately $300 million, which the County and all of our local cities will spend on infrastructure to capture, clean, and store stormwater. It is projected to double the amount of water that’s captured from local precipitation, reducing our dependence on imports from Northern California, the Eastern Sierras, and the distant Colorado River.
Cities can make their sidewalks and other hard surfaces out of permeable materials rather than concrete. It’s also possible to add “bioswales” by the side of roads – dips in the ground where shrubs, trees, and grass are planted so storm water flows into the ground after being filtered by the vegetation, and winds up in underground aquifers. This measure also presents an opportunity to bring more green space and trees to poorer parts of the county that have lacked these vital amenities. Side effects of implementing bioswales will improve air quality and mitigate extreme heat.
There’s also a new legal reality that requires us to support Measure W. California’s legislature now requires cities and counties to bear the cost of complying with the federal Clean Water Act. Existing funding sources only cover sewers, drinking water, and flood control. Capturing storm water is the missing piece of the puzzle and it’s legally necessary.
With a cost of 2.5 cents per square foot, officials estimate that the tax for a median property (7,500-square-foot lot and 2,100-square-foot house) would be approximately $83 a year. Properties owned by nonprofits and governments are ex- empt. Low-income seniors can apply for an exemption, and the County Board of Supervisors has the option to include exemption for low-income homeowners going forward. Property owners can reduce their tax liability by showing they have less hard surfaces than assessed by the County or if they’ve created infrastructure to reuse rainwater on site.
There is widespread support for this measure among environmentalists, social justice groups, and unions. While the LA Chamber of Commerce is formally neutral on the measure, there is organized opposition from some parts of the business and real estate sector.
Our region can’t survive and thrive without capturing and storing more of the rain we receive locally. Investments in this infrastructure have to be paid somehow, and we think it makes sense to pay for it by taxing the source of the problem—impermeable surfaces. LA Forward strongly recommends a YES vote on LA County Measure W.
Environmental groups: Amigos de los Rios, Communities for a
Better Environment, Friends of the Los Angeles River, Heal the Bay, Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC), LA League of Conservation Voters, LA Waterkeeper, Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, Mujeres de la Tierra, Nature for All, NRDC, Pacoima Beautiful, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Surfrider Foundation LA Chapter, 350.org, TreePeople, & Trust for Public Land.
Social justice groups Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Housing Long Beach, Long Beach Grey Panthers, ACT-LA, Investing in Place, and Los Angeles Food Policy Council.
San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and the City of Los Angeles
Business groups like the Central City Association.
Political groups like the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA)