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Measure W: LA’s parcel tax for stormwater recycling, explained

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What would it do, and why is it on the ballot?

The county wants to institute a parcel tax to clean up water that flows into the ocean.
Liz Kuball

Measure W seeks to create a special tax for parcels located in the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, which covers the majority of Los Angeles County. The tax revenue—which property owners would have to pay—would pay for projects, infrastructure, and programs to capture, treat, and recycle rainwater.

If “The Safe, Clean Water Act” passes, parcels within the flood control district would be taxed at a rate of 2.5 cents per square foot of “impermeable area” (i.e. paved or built-on surfaces that that prevent “stormwater and urban runoff from entering the earth,” like concrete patios and driveways).

There would be some exemptions available for properties owned by “qualifying low-income seniors,” government-owned parcels, and those owned by nonprofits. Property owners could apply for credits to pay reduced taxes if they capture or treat stormwater themselves.

Input your address in this online calculator to get an estimate for how much you’d pay if the measure passes.

Who’s behind it?

The parcel tax was proposed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to put the measure on the ballot.

What impact will it have on Los Angeles County?

If the parcel tax is approved, it would raise an estimated $300 million per year for such projects in the LA County.

That money would be doled out to the flood district and cities in the county for projects and programs.

The back story

County officials have said that this tax is needed to help the county and the cities it contains comply with federal water quality laws that require them to capture, treat and recycle runoff.

“The Federal Clean Water Act requires us to clean up our stormwater, but it’s an unfunded mandate,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said at the July 17 supervisors meeting where the measure was approved for the ballot. “We’ve got 88 cities in the county who have been unable to fully address water quality issues because there is no source of funding, and the deadline to meet the requirements is getting closer and closer.”

Arguments for:

  • Approving the measure “will strengthen the county’s capacity to improve water quality and increase water supplies, effectively prepare for emergent environmental and natural hazards, and address the threat of climate change,” county documents say.
  • Urban runoff is a significant source of water pollution. By capturing and treating stormwater, the county could reduce that type of pollution.
  • Approving the measure would help the county use to its advantage billions of gallons of water that would otherwise just run into the ocean.
  • Upgrades to our water system are overdue and much needed.
  • Creating a funding source for stormwater cleanup required by federal law now would help the county avoid expensive penalties later (potentially hundreds of millions of dollars) for not meeting those standards.

“L.A. County is heavily reliant on imported water and faces an uncertain future. Storm water capture systems are a sound investment in our water security efforts.” —Mark Pestrella, director of the LA County Department of Public Works

Arguments against:

  • The measure doesn’t outline specific projects that the money would go toward or any project costs.
  • The parcel tax doesn’t have a set end date, which concerns critics. County residents would have to vote again to end it. Though official wording includes a provision for the county Board of Supervisors to reevaluate the need for the tax in “a period no longer than 30 years,” there are no guarantees the tax would necessarily end at that time.
  • Though property owners who capture stormwater can apply for credits to reduce their taxes, they must essentially reapply for the credits every two years—a process which some say is onerous.

“There are no guaranteed projects, no objectives for capture, no timeline and no guarantees of what the money will pay for. It’s kind of like a blank check,” Los Angeles County Business Federation Advocacy Director D’Andre Valencia told the Long Beach Business Journal

Who supports it?

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
  • Los Angeles County Supervisors Hahn, Kuehl, Solis, and Ridley-Thomas
  • Friends of the Los Angeles River
  • Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)

Who opposes it?

  • Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed)
  • California Taxpayers Association
  • Valley Industry & Commerce Association
  • Pasadena Chamber of Commerce

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