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Councilman comes up with way to fund LA River upgrades—it could generate $50M

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Affordable housing, bridges, and bikeways could be built with the revenue

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The LA River
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

A proposed “financing district” could generate about $50 million annually to revitalize the Los Angeles River, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said today.

O’Farrell wants to take advantage of a new California law that allows cities and counties to capture property tax revenue in a specific zone that would otherwise go to their general funds.

A new estimate presented to the City Council’s Arts, Parks, and LA River committee, puts the funding potential for a funding zone for the LA River at $50 to $60 million yearly by its fifth year.

That amount would vary based on the financing district’s size and portion of tax revenue that’s funneled into the district.

The money would come from existing property taxes collected from an “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District,” or EIFD, the boundaries of which are still being drawn. But they would be within the city’s jurisdiction, a 32-mile stretch of the river from Warner Center east toward Griffith Park, south through Northeast LA and Downtown, all the way to Vernon.

As land values in the district rise, the city would keep a greater portion of the bump in property tax revenue to use for projects within the district. The percentage of tax increment that would go to river improvements has also yet to be decided.

It’s possible money from the district could be used to help fill in funding gaps for an epic, $1-billion restoration project, but Tony Arranaga, a rep for O’Farrell, says that’s just one of a few possible uses for the money. Another is to build affordable housing.

Other possibilities include infrastructure improvements and additions, like bridges, bikeways, and brownfield remediation, which would remove hazardous materials from former industrial sites.

O’Farrell has been careful to note that an EIFD does not create a new tax.

Still, taxpayers associations have been wary of the model. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported there was pushback against the proposed EIFD because it doesn’t require a vote of affected property owners.

Redirecting property tax revenue could reduce the amount of money available for other services, such as paving roads. That could lead to local leaders wanting to raise local taxes to make up for the loss, the Times said.

There’s still a lot to be decided about the district before it becomes a reality. Arranaga says the city is aiming to nail down more details next year, then the district can get started.