Hired Guns: Part 1

Part 1: The Tax Man Goeth

The mayor of Palos Verdes Estates, the city council, and over sixty percent of the voters in the last municipal election on March 7, 2017 voted for something so important and crucial to the community that it could only have been given the most anodyne name imaginable: Measure D.

This ballot item, if it had been forced to comply with the same rules of truthful disclosure that we require of foodstuffs, would have been called “City Fire Department and EMS Tax.” Because that’s what it was: A tax to continue paying for that least objectionable and most necessary of all city services – a fire department and its attendant emergency medical services.

Who could possibly vote against that?

The answer turned out to be “about forty percent of the people who voted in an election that had less than thirteen percent of all eligible voters show up to vote.” Normally that would be a crushing victory for the tax man, sixty to forty. But in PV Estates, tax proposals like this one had to be approved by two-thirds of the people who voted, and the end tally left the tax supporters about three hundred votes short. In other words, the people of PV Estates voted, incredibly, not to pay for their own fire and emergency medical services.

It might seem strange to think that a mostly older community with a large proportion of retirees would vote against a fire department. This is no henhouse filled with spring chickens; the city’s median age is a sun-wrinkled, HGH-assisted 50. PV Estates sits on a hilly slope that is highly susceptible to the wildfires that make California such a staple of national night-time summer weather news reports. Setting aside the conflagrations, the fire department is also the first responder when people wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, when they fall and break a hip, or much more importantly, when their cat gets stuck in a tree.

But voting against the fire department and EMS wasn’t really a vote against either, and it certainly wasn’t a vote against cats. It was a vote against the PV Estates Police Department, an agency that of late had become the endless target of bad news, litigation, and virulent anonymous hate speech attacks.

To understand how a minority of voters could torpedo an entire police department, though, you have to go back to 1978, to Howard Jarvis, and to Proposition 13, the mother of all regressive tax laws. And to understand why the white voters in PV Estates were so staunchly behind regressive taxation, even to the detriment of their own community, you have to go all the way back to the city’s inception and the deed restrictions that marketed PV Estates as an ideal community that would bring together “the cream of the manhood and womanhood of the greatest nation that has ever lived, the Caucasian race and the American nation.” Those were the words of its founder, and his adherents are alive, well, and kicking like hell.



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29 thoughts on “Hired Guns: Part 1”

  1. an·o·dyne

    1. not likely to provoke dissent or offense; inoffensive, often deliberately so.

    1. a painkilling drug or medicine.

    Learn something new every day!

  2. And I’ll bet not a one is from the Caucasas region in Europe. Well, maybe one. In the mean time, feel free to head to Venice/Culver City this Sunday where cars will be banned in favor of cyclists, skaters, pedestrians, and the like. Bring your cruisers and enjoy the day.

  3. I was just looking at our 2016 property taxes and we paid about $9800 to the county of San Diego County. I think that is supposed to include road repair stuff, schools, fire, EMS, and general infrastructure whatnot, and who knows what else. We also pay about $118 per year in what we rednecks up here in Alpine call “Governor Moonbeam’s” extra fire tax/fee, because we live in an area that has been designated as ‘prone’ to wildfires. As you know, our kids are way grown up (not that their age keeps them from asking for money and cars), but we gladly support the schools, even with out-of-pocket donations. We do the same with the fire department here and CalFire.
    Doesn’t PVE get a share of the property tax from landowners there for their fire department? Or, have they spent all that dough on extras/fluff (like harassing cyclists).
    Maybe they should just legislate a new “fee” like Governor Moonbeam did! Screw the voters! It is virtually impossible to get 67% ‘yes’ votes on a tax measure these days! Back door the mofos!

    1. Short answer is they don’t get the fee for Fire and EMS due to bad decisions they made pre-Prop 13. So now, sucking eggs.

  4. I had the joy of staying nearby for a couple of weeks recently. I was working at a sewage pumping plant in Long Beach and stayed at a hotel in San Pedro. I took my single speed with S&S couplers along and rode nearly every evening on the RPV peninsula.

    Gotta say I really don’t like all the gated communities here in San Antonio TX or the lack of accessibile public land. I also cringe to read some of those RPV restrictions, especially the racist ones. But you have to admit, riding a bike in Palos Verdes would be more like riding in San Pedro without that history and those restrictions. And it sounds like you wouldn’t have moved there instead of San Pedro either.
    I guess in a perfect world people have would just recognized the beauty of the peninsula and protected it without being racist or pretentious.

  5. So tell me. I think you said in another story that because of Jarvis and Prop 13, the tax rate on property (at least home property) is fixed forever at 1%. Is it safe to assume that is 1% of assessed value? Does that keep California property values super inflated so that 1% of a $1,000,000 bungalow brings in more tax revenue than a more moderately valued $250,000 bungalow? Clearly the towns can’t assess a property at more than current market value, but how do assessments relate to market value in CA? I imagine the answer isn’t as simple as it might seem.

    1. Another key element of Prop 13 is that the value assessed by the local government can only go up a maximum of 2% per year. Since So Cal property typically appreciates much faster than that, people who have lived in their homes for decades pay property tax based on an assessed value that is far less than the actual value of the home.

      When a house is sold the assessed value is reset to the actual selling price.

      1. And in the interim social services like roads, schools, and everything else degrades.

    2. The 1% is applied to the initial purchase price/assessed value of the house, and the dollar amount of paid taxes is only allowed to increase a maximum of 3% a year thereafter. So, if you bought your house 20 years ago for $300,000k, you’re getting off easy property tax wise compared those who paid $1MM+ Or more recently for a home.

      1. On the third hand, if you live in a progressive-thinking community (me-Oakland), year after year you voluntarily assess the bejeesus out of yourself, so you pay far more than 1% of assessed value.

      2. The maximum increase is limited to 2%, not 3%
        The rest of your statements are correct.

        Changes to that general increase are limited to a few circumstances. Typically, reassessment only occurs upon a sale or upon an improvement (eg, taking wall down to studs) or alteration (applies to both Land and Improvement components).

        In addition, the county has a few other subtle reassessment tricks. Eg, if you make a substantial improvement within 4 years of purchase, the assessor can claim they “erred” in their original assessment, claim you must have bought the parcel for the land only, and revalue your land component at your full initial price (then apply a new, additional value to your Improvement component). I know this from first hand experience after building a house here. Despite winning my first appeal (where the mediator looked at the county rep incredulously and asked, “Why are you guys doing to this gentleman?”), the county proceeded to a 2rd appeal and prevailed. The deck is stacked in favor of the county at the three judge panel downtown.

  6. After all these years we are still talking about Prop 13. That proposition was such a hot topic back then. I remember as a kid my parents talking about it and getting into heated debates with their friends.

  7. The interesting thing about prop 13 is it’s become an investment vehicle.

    Collect a few properties, or one big parcel, get some rent to break even while value accrues under prop 13.

    Pretty soon it becomes real money in a very tidy tax shelter.

    1. As long as you don’t need fire departments, schools, roads, health care, environmental protection, and state-subsidized carbon that is 100% full pure carbon …

        1. Less than fifty rented parcels out of more than 5,000. So, owners are on the hook. Incredibly.

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