Accepting the fact that their handling of a proposal to get approval from Los Angeles County property owners for a parcel fee aimed at cleaning regional waterways was deeply flawed, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to cancel the proposal, at least for now.
Because the parcel tax could result in another substantial tax liability for large property owners, nonprofit organizations and business owners, the proposed levy was met with resistance.
We believe that what angered property owners the most however was not that they were being asked to approve another tax, but the seemingly sneaky and underhanded way the County was going about getting it passed.
The measure was detailed on a ballot mailed out to property owners that looked more like junk mail then an official voting instrument. In fact, later learning about the initiative, many property owners said they had thrown the vote by mail ballot away, thinking it was unimportant. Property owners told supervisors that there had been no outreach or advertising to let them know that an election was even taking place.
As a result, absent the public outcry that prompted supervisors to rethink their handling of the issue, the taxing measure could have passed with very few votes and little public awareness until the increase was noticed on the next property tax bill.
This experience should be a warning to everyone who thinks that sending ballots through the mail is the best way to increase voter participation. The act of mailing out ballots is not in and of itself a solution. Strong efforts still need to be made to inform people first, that there is an election taking place, second, what it is about, and third, about the process involved.
We hope this kind of mailed in election is never held again, but if it is, that the appropriate measures are taken to make sure that the ballot is easily identified as such and that the media will used to provide notice to the voters.
The Board of Supervisors did the right thing in backing away from this measure, at least until it can come up with a better way to get the information out to those that will be most impacted.