Open Space Initiative petitions delivered

More than 3,000 signatures were gathered in support of initiative to tax property owners to raise money for open space purchases.

October 06, 2011|By Barbara Diamond

An initiative to tax Laguna Beach property owners to raise money for the purchase of open space got off the ground this week.

A citizen's committee collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot an initiative that asks voters to approve a levy on property owners of $10 a month for 20 years to buy open space in and around the city.

The signatures were delivered to City Hall on Tuesday and to the county recorder's office for verification of registered voters on Wednesday.


"We needed 1,900 signatures; 3,208 were turned in," said former Mayor Paul Freeman, speaking for Citizens for Preservation of Open Space. "This positive response was gratifying for signature gatherers, who felt fortunate to advance an idea they feel will benefit everyone and leave a rich legacy."

The initiative would generate approximately $1 million a year for 20 years without floating a bond or borrowing, which eliminates interest, according to Freeman. The funds would replace state money that has dried up and won't be flowing again any time soon, he said.

Four percent would be reserved for maintenance and fire safety measures. Administrative costs would be limited to 1%.

Land purchases would be preserved as open space and reserved for passive uses such as hiking trails and vista points, Freeman said.

"Fundamentally the initiative would continue the city's prevailing practice of buying open space from willing sellers, giving good value," Freeman said.

The City Council would hold the purse strings. However, purchase prices are limited by state law to no more than the actual value.

A watchdog committee would be appointed to oversee the program, the same approach used for the school bond program and the short-lived, one-half-cent sales tax to raise funds to pay for the Bluebird Canyon restoration and to establish a disaster fund.

The council would also decide which properties to buy, with input from nonprofit groups such as the Trust for Public Land and the Conservation Fund. Acquisition by eminent domain — anathema to property rights adherents — would be prohibited.

Initiative funds are estimated to increase open space inside the city limits by about 20%.

"It's a good idea because it reflect community values," Freeman said. "[City] councils for a long time — including this one — have recognized that open space helps define Laguna's character."

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