Robert Bush 6:31 p.m., May 18
Watchdog group questions the legality of maintenance assessment districts in a new lawsuit against the City of San Diego
Less than a year after fighting a losing battle over the legality of the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District, the City of San Diego must now defend the legality of the City's 56 maintenance assessment districts as well as the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District.
On August 29, 19 days after city councilmembers approved the district's budgets for next year, local government watchdog group San Diegans for Open Government filed a lawsuit against the City for levying the assessments and against the County for collecting them.
Community activist, Ian Trowbridge, co-chair of San Diegans for Open Government, says the assessments violate California's Proposition 26, the 2010 constitutional amendment that prohibits local governments from implementing or increasing general taxes without a majority vote by the electorate.
"I don't think these assessment districts are terribly bad, they just don't follow the law," says Trowbridge.
But members of the group should be prepared for a long fight. The City Attorney's office has shown that it is willing to spend hundreds of hours in staff time to fight to keep the maintenance assessment districts.
In 2007 residents of Golden Hill and South Park sued the City for creating the local Clean, Green, and Safe program. The residents claimed, and the judge agreed, that the City inflated the vote in order to pass the assessment.
But that wasn't all. In the lawsuit residents also questioned the lack of distinction between actual benefits versus general benefits.
This, says Trowbridge, is one of the problems with these taxes.
"The only people who should benefit are the contributors to the fund," he said. "The property owners are spending a substantial amount of money keeping the streets clean, or on other general improvements. That means everybody benefits, not just the people paying the taxes. Local politicians don't follow the law, instead they have decided to ignore it."