A recent newspaper headline read “$2.9M maintenance tax approved”, implying that the Oakley City Council was raising taxes instead of performing a mandatory annual review of the City’s Landscaping and Lighting Districts.
In 1972 the State Legislature passed the Landscaping and Lighting Act (Streets and Highways Code §22500 through §22679) to provide local governments a tool to pay for landscaping, lighting and other improvements and services in public areas. This tool simply allows local governments the ability to form Landscape and Lighting Maintenance Districts for the purpose of financing the costs and expenses of landscaping and lighting public areas. The many approved uses include installation and maintenance of landscaping, statues, fountains, general lighting, traffic lights, recreational and playground courts and equipment, and public restrooms.
So, how is a new district formed? Generally, a developer comes to town and wants to build homes or commercial/industrial developments. The developer and the city will work together to determine what level of amenities, parks, street landscaping, traffic lights, medians, etc., are required for their particular development. City engineers then develop a report that proposes the formation of a district or annexation to an existing one and then levy assessments. Affected property owners are then notified, (in most cases it is only the developer) and a vote is taken. If approved by a majority of the property owners, assessments will be placed on property tax bills each year to pay for the maintenance and improvements.
Generally, these public improvements are constructed by developers as a part of the conditions permitting the developer to construct new housing or commercial/industrial developments. However, the ongoing operation and maintenance of these various improvements are financed through the District. The District is composed of Benefit Zones “Zones” to ensure the operation and maintenance of the improvements are specifically paid for by those property owners who directly benefit from the improvements.
By law (Prop. 13), benefit assessments cannot be based on the value of property. Instead, each district establishes a benefit formula and each parcel in the service area is assessed according to the benefit it receives from the services and improvements.
Proposition 218, called “The Right to Vote on Taxes Act”, was formed in part to counteract concerns surrounding 1972 Act Districts. Under Prop. 218, to increase an existing assessment, the City must give written notice to all affected property owners, hold a public hearing and an assessment ballot vote. A majority vote is required to approve the rate increase. If a majority vote is not received, the increase cannot be applied. Contrary to the implication of the newspaper article, the City Council did not propose any increases to the rates and could not approve an increase anyway – those must be voted in by the residents of the District.
When the City incorporated in 1999 it formed the Street Lighting and Landscaping District No. 1 and transferred the responsibility of the park and recreational, street lighting and landscaping improvements from the County to the City. The District is divided into 3 zones.
Benefit Zone 1 consists of all the parcels that benefit from community parks and recreational facilities. Zone 1 has two sub-zones. Zone 1-A includes parcels that benefit from new parks and facilities. Zone 1-B includes parcels benefiting from Summerlake Community Park. All three zones have different assessment values. Although the parks are open for use to everyone, the benefit derived from having a park in your neighborhood, i.e. the value added to your property, is greater than those neighborhoods without parks. People living in Zone 1-B are not subsiding Zone 1. The taxes collected in Zone 1-B are used for parks and facilities in Zone 1-B.
Benefit Zone 2 consists of all those parcels that benefit from street lighting facilities. Zone 2 also has a sub-zone; Zone 2-A includes all those parcels that benefit from new street lighting facilities.
Benefit Zone 3 consists of 26 sub-zones that provide landscaping maintenance with their development. As new properties are developed, they are required to annex into an existing sub-zone of form a new sub-zone. Those people living in the newer developments are paying higher assessment because they have more amenities than those living in the older areas of the City.
When we incorporated there was one City park, Crockett and a couple of joint-use facilities, O’Hara Park and Oakley Elementary. We now have over 30 parks and numerous landscaped streets and medians. Great strides have been taken to beautify Oakley and the formation of lighting and landscape districts has made this possible.