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Proposed tax elicits lawsuit threat

Sunset Beach group wants community to have chance to vote on Utility Users Tax after annexation.

December 01, 2010|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com

A group of Sunset Beach residents is threatening to sue if Huntington Beach levies a utility tax without giving residents a chance to vote on it, according to a letter sent to county officials.

The Citizen's Assn. of Sunset Beach, which sent the letter to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, is upset with Huntington Beach's decision to levy a utility users tax on the community after being told residents wouldn't have to pay it after their community is annexed.

The community was told it couldn't have any new taxes imposed without voting, said association President Jack Markovitz.

Sunset Beach wouldn't get a vote under island annexation, which is used for unincorporated areas of less than 150 acres and revokes the community's right to protest.

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Imposing new taxes without a vote is a violation of their basic rights instilled during the American Revolution, Markovitz said.

"This is not America the way I was taught," he said.

Huntington Beach City Atty. Jennifer McGrath and LAFCO have previously said new taxes can't be levied without a vote, but Huntington Beach changed its stance after further examination of the law.

McGrath said at the Nov. 15 City Council meeting that Sunset Beach has to pay the same taxes as the rest of the city.

LAFCO Executive Officer Joyce Crosthwaite said the commission won't take comment on Huntington Beach's decision, but it is maintaining its position that new taxes can't be applied because of the island annexation.

Crosthwaite said the fact that Huntington is planning on imposing new taxes isn't even on the annexation application that the commission will look at.

LAFCO also doesn't have the authority to deny the application, only to add terms and conditions, she said.

The commission can't add a term or condition prohibiting the council from imposing the fees because it can't tie the hands of future councils, she said.

Markovitz said he feels deceived, but is also disappointed that LAFCO won't stand up for Sunset Beach.

"We're basically being sold down the river to Huntington Beach by our county," he said. "I'm concerned that our elected officials have a deaf ear to Sunset Beach."

Markovitz said the association wants to resolve the issue without litigation, but has already collected about $70,000 in donations and is seeking more in case it comes to that.

The ideal situation would be for Huntington Beach to reapply for a regular annexation, which would give Sunset residents a vote in their fate, he said.

The issue came under fire after both Sunset and Huntington Beach groups threatened litigation over the annexation. Huntington Beach residents were upset that the community would enjoy all the city's services without paying taxes.

Sunset Beach was put under Huntington's sphere of influence by LAFCO a little more than a year ago in an effort to get rid of county islands.

LAFCO is expected to approve the annexation at 9 a.m. Dec. 8 in the Orange County Planning Commission Hearing Room, 10 Civic Center Plaza in Santa Ana.

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