By Gary Walker
Weary of what they consider to be a lack of interest by city officials regarding their infrastructure woes, a group of Mar Vista residents have done what some voters have been leery of doing in previous years: they decided to tax themselves in order to pay for street and sidewalk repairs.
Homeowners who live south of Venice Boulevard voted late last month by a 42-38 margin to create an assessment district in a small segment of the community of approximately 35,500. The district was approved by the Los Angeles City Council and residents within the newly created district will see an additional $7,000 on their property tax bills beginning in 2014.
“Other cities use tax dollars to pave their streets and they don’t ask the property owners to double dip into their own pockets,” said Steve Wallace, president of the South Mar Vista Homeowners Association and one of Mar Vista’s staunchest critics of Los Angeles city government. “The main question has to be, where is the city wasting all the money if other cities can afford to take care of their own streets, trees and infrastructure?”
The Argonaut reported on the frustration of a group of homeowners last year in Mar Vista that included Wallace who said they were at their wits end watching the deterioration of their sidewalks, streets and curbs. While many community members did not take them seriously, some of the homeowners, prior to settling on creating an assessment district, openly mused about breaking away from Los Angeles and perhaps joining Culver City.
“I’ve been trying to get my streets paved for 26 years. I see what Culver City does for their residents,” said Connie Kay, a South Mar Vista homeowner who works at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City.
“A group of residents and business owners of south Mar Vista have been meeting for several months to discuss the pros and cons of south Mar Vista being run by Culver City instead of Los Angeles,” began an email obtained by The Argonaut from the homeowners association last year.
“Some of the items that have been the topic of discussion is that south Mar Vistans put millions of tax dollars in the city of Los Angeles’ coffers and basically get nothing in return. The streets are full of potholes, you can’t drive down most alleyways without damaging your car; the streets are filthy and some are not even cleaned on a weekly basis; the city has a build, build, build policy so that they can build up city funds with permit fees and total disregard to the increased density and increased traffic, making all streets south and north gridlocked from around 4-7 p.m. every day and we have a mayor (former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) working about one hour per day to run this city.”
Wallace, who is a member of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, said one solution could be making the urban metropolis smaller.
“Is Los Angeles too big?” he asked. “Should it be carved out into smaller manageable districts because as it stands, Los Angeles can not afford to do anything but offer band-aids in the hope to pacify the taxpayers into thinking things are actually being done?
“Another thing that needs to be looked into is the cost. If a private contractor can rebuild the curbs of (South Mar Vista) for half the cost that the city can, is this the fleecing of Los Angeles residents?” Wallace continued. “I think so.
“The city has no money to replace the curbs, so if the residents want the street repaved, they need to first pony up and pay for the curbs to be replaced.
“No curbs, no street fix.”
City Councilman Mike Bonin could not be reached for comment on the assessment district issue.
While many Westside communities, including parts of Venice, Del Rey and Westchester, have critical infrastructure needs, residents say the entire city is overdue for street and sidewalk repair. In fact, Mar Vista has seen more attention regarding its infrastructure than many neighborhoods.
According to city records, since 2007, two years after former City Councilman Bill Rosendahl took office, there have been 343 street repair operations in Mar Vista, including 89 resurfacing operations, totaling approximately 18 miles in distance.
In addition, the Department of Street Services has engaged in 254 slurry, or street sealing projects, equaling 21.44 miles, according to Street Services.
“One of Councilman Rosendahl’s first acts after he was elected to the council (in 2005) was to allocate $100,000 for the beautification of Venice Boulevard,” added Bonin, then Rosendahl’s chief of staff in an interview last year.
Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joseph Buscaino have been working on a $3 billion bond proposal that would dedicate funds derived from the bond to fixing the city’s streets and sidewalks, but it has met opposition from many groups, including the Mar Vista council.
Former Public Works Commissioner Michael Nutter believes that one of the city’s only options might be to do what is necessary on a large scale.
“Currently, the sidewalks and the roads would have to be built with general fund money, which means that it’s money that isn’t earmarked for special use by one of the departments. We’re a number of years behind in fixing the sidewalks because we’ve not had the funds to do them,” explained Nutter, a Venice resident.
“So it will take some special revenue-raising in order to be able to fix the sidewalks or it would require the obligation to be shifted back to the homeowner. It’s a bill that will be billions of dollars, whether it’s paid for by the city or the homeowner.”
Road repair and sewer and water enhancements remain high priorities for Angelenos. A USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll conducted earlier this year found two-thirds of the city’s residents were dissatisfied with the city’s performance on street repair.§
Mar Vista: Residents get assessment district to pay for local infrastructure
By Gary Walker