In a stealth maneuver seven weeks ago, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors persuaded Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, to “gut and amend” Assembly Bill 1180, originally designed to reduce contamination from tires, to instead give them more authority to raise taxes on private property.

Publicly, the purpose is to use the new taxes to make our water supply more resilient and reduce the pollution levels in storm water heading to the ocean. This is an important aspiration that requires creative solutions from diverse stakeholders.

But the details always matter on how to achieve vital goals.

In their haste to get authority to put what amounts to a rain tax on the November 2018 ballot, the County overlooked a few important considerations.

There is no independent taxpayer oversight of the spending; there is no requirement to have an up-to-date storm water plan to spend the money; there is no assurance that the money will be used for that purpose; and there is no credit given for those who have already reduced pollution or are willing to do more to reduce pollution from their neighborhoods.

The businesses and homeowners who will be writing the billions of dollars in checks to pay for this tax have asked for those basic protections. The county’s response so far is “trust us — we’ll work those details our later.” Even though there are now four new members on the Board of Supervisors, the tactics don’t seem to have changed from the last time the County tried to tackle this challenge.

We’ve been down this road before. Three years ago, the supervisors abandoned an effort to create a “rain tax” when it became clear that the property owners were going to demand an effective plan that defined the actual pathway to achieve the goals and accountability for the spending.

It will take a two-thirds approval from voters to pass any new tax. Before we can work on making that happen at the ballot box, the Holden bill, describing what may be put on the ballot, must be fixed.

The funding must have a very strong and independent oversight component. The program is expected to cost billions of dollars and it is envisioned that funding will be distributed to a hundred or more jurisdictions and agencies by formula and merit over several decades.

The proposal should include Legislative authority for the Regional Water Quality Board to accept funding from this tax source to completely update the basin storm water plan.  This plan should comprehensively take in to account new scientific, technological, design and economic factors.  It is not fair to ask the taxpayers to fund a plan that lacks sound scientific support and has had little in the way of updating in the last twenty years.  You wouldn’t build a house using 20 year old architectural plans that leaves out best practices and materials for structural integrity, energy efficiency, technological advancements, and floor plan effectiveness for the way people live and interact with one another in today’s world. Why we would do that now for our precious regional water system used by 10 million people?

All the funds collected through the proposal should first be dedicated to compliance with Federal Clean Water Act goals for the Municipal Storm Water Program (MS4s) regulations. LA County has already approved new funding for streets and roads, park development, schools and homeless services and facilities.  Diverting funds to provide other community amenities without requiring that they feed in to compliance measures forced on all of our 88 cities it will not serve the purpose of this pollution reduction tax.

Neighborhood and regional solutions are the only way to manage and treat a significant volume of storm water. If a new development can build a project to capture storm water from an entire neighborhood, local government should have the means to incentivize such cost-effective efforts and take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

The LA County Supervisors need to offer the taxpayers some reassurances that they are committed to using the taxpayer dollars generated from this program on real solutions that will reduce water pollution and enhance our water supply for a sustainable future.

Let’s hope that we don’t all lose out by missing the boat on this.