The Los Angeles City Council approved Tuesday, January 16th, the reimbursement of $11.4 million to Playa Vista through Mello-Roos bond proceeds for expenditures the developer incurred for archaeological costs related to the Riparian Corridor project and the excavation of Native American remains.
The state Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 provides a method for local governments to fund public infrastructure and certain services, particularly for newly developing areas.
The act provides that cities may form community facilities districts (CFDs), which are special financing entities through which a local government is empowered to levy special taxes and issue bonds authorized by a two-thirds vote of the qualified electors in the district.
Mello-Roos bond proceeds can be used to finance the construction, expansion, rehabilitation or acquisition of any real or other tangible property with an estimated useful life of five years or more, which will be constructed, owned or operated by a public entity.
Mello-Roos bonds are payable solely from special taxes levied on property within the boundaries of the community facilities district. The City of Los Angeles is not obligated to pay the bonds from any city funds.
In 1999, the Los Angeles City Council approved various resolutions and ordinances to form Community Facilities District No. 4 (Playa Vista – Phase I).
In 2000, a special landowner election was held of the qualified electors of Playa Vista to incur bonded indebtedness, to levy a special tax on property owners within Playa Vista and to establish an appropriations limit.
The special district was unanimously approved by Playa Vista property owners and Community Facilities District 4 was established to finance the construction and acquisition of various public infrastructure improvements such as storm drains, street improvements and street lighting.
In 2003, the city issued $135 million in Mello-Roos special tax bonds for Community Facilities District 4. This bond issuance yielded $102 million in proceeds to finance public infrastructure projects.
The largest project was the Riparian Corridor, which provides stormwater management, water quality enhancement and habitat restoration along the base of the Westchester Bluffs.
An increase of $11.4 million was requested by Playa Vista because of the extent of the archaeological excavation at the Riparian Corridor.
City officials and Playa Vista anticipated that remains of Gabrielino Tongva Native Americans would be found while constructing the Riparian Corridor, since aviator Howard Hughes uncovered the burial site when he constructed a Hughes Aircraft landing strip.
“This request from the developer for payment is a shame and an ongoing attack on our culture,” said Anthony Morales, tribal chairman and chief of the Gabrielino Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.
“Instead of asking for compensation, they should be talking to us about a reburial. Our ancestors have been out of the ground for several years and in storage. This action is an injustice and genocidal.
“To pay for this atrocity would be a misuse of bond monies. The city did nothing when one of our last remaining intact cemeteries was destroyed and 411 of our ancestors were desecrated, which is a hate crime,” Morales said.
Playa Vista originally budgeted approximately $3 million for an archaeological excavation at the Riparian Corridor.
“Once the archaeological remains were found, the excavation proved to be extremely complicated and time-consuming,” wrote William Fujioka, former city administrative officer, in a November staff report to the Los Angeles City Council.
“The city required the developer to comply with both federal and state requirements with respect to archaeology and the costs increased by $11.4 million, as the process is extremely labor intensive and is done by highly trained experts,” Fujioka wrote.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 to adopt a first amendment to the Infrastructure Funding Agreement for Community Facilities District 4 and to reimburse Playa Vista $11.4 million.
Councilmembers agreed that all future funding of archaeological costs for Playa Vista Community Facilities District 4 would have to come from a funding source other than Mello-Roos.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes Playa Vista, asked Morales to work with Playa Vista representative George Mihlsten to rebury the 411 Native American remains at Playa Vista.
Morales said that reburial was an action that Playa Vista was already required to take and that Mihlsten should talk to Robert Dorame, the most likely descendant of a Native American whose remains were removed from the Riparian Corridor site.
Councilmembers also instructed acting chief city administrative officer Karen Sisson and the city’s Bureau of Engineering to report back to the City Council Budget and Finance Committee within 30 days concerning the status of an abandoned oil well in the wetlands area.
The City Council wants to know whether the well was properly abandoned, whether the well is currently leaking and if necessary measures can be taken to resolve any issues with the well.