A Broken Trust

As the City Council considers five new or increased taxes on residents, an analysis shows they have broken their trust with the community.

La Habra Heights was incorporated as a low-key, low-cost City, dependent on resident volunteers for many functions and oversight.

In 1996, the City Council established the new Roads Committee. The December 1996 City Publication "Top of the Heights", stated that, "Residents want assurances that this project will be completed in a timely fashion, with maximum cost efficiency and minimal disruption to the community. Continued citizen involvement and oversight in all project phases will help make these assurances possible." the "City Council has formed an independent Roads Committee that will work with the City Engineer and City Manager. The Committee's primary responsibility will be to the residents of La Habra Heights."

The introduction ended with "keeping La Habra Heights a resident-run community."

In 2001, the City Council expanded the role of the newly named "Public Works Committee" to include drainage facilities and traffic control and safety devices, with a mission to evaluate road repairs, maintenance, funding, and evaluate bid packages and procedures.

The existence of the Public Works Committee was fundamental in residents' acceptance of the annual Roads Tax.

In 2008, the City Council and Staff started a program eliminating all resident oversight committee and commissions.

In July 2009, the City Council, by 3-2 vote (Bergman and Carroll opposed) abandoned the Public Works Committee. Councilmember Baroldi stated he did not want to create conflicts between residents and staff. Councilmember Westerhoff said he didn't know what the committee did.

The issue had been brought to a head as the Committee pointed out that the annual maintenance program was months behind, and it appeared maintenance funds were diverted for other issues.

City Staff objected to questions being asked, and did not want residents questioning or overseeing spending.

By the end of 2009, the only resident commissions left were the Planning Commission, required by state law, and the Parks and Recreation Commission, which was changed from an oversight of maintenance and spending at the Park, to an event committee headed by Karen Vipperman, wife of Mayor Vipperman.

Instead of a "resident run community", the City is resident excluded.

In 2009, the Council, Baroldi opposed, banned children, and adults, from riding their bikes or skateboards at the Park parking areas or sidewalks.

Fire Tax Increased in Violation of Voter Approved Law

The Fire Department is financed by an annual Fire Tax voted by the residents and renewed every 5 years.

The tax includes an escalation provision of the consumer price index, though not to exceed 3% in any year.

In 2008, the City Council increased the Fire Tax by 6%, double that allowed by law.

In 2009, the Consumer Price Index went down, which should have resulted in the Fire Tax going down, but it was held the same. At the August hearing for the tax, Mayor Vipperman did not open the hearing for public comment and did not let a citizen speak who had submitted a card.

Fire Department Rating Falls

While the Council has been focusing on redeveloping the Heights for Urban Estates, and possibly Hillside Condos, Fire Department service was neglected.

The Insurance Services Office did a review of the Fire Department and it's rating fell from 3 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 9.

At the same time, the Water District, without increasing rates, was able to improve it's rating from 3 to 1, the best possible.

Conclusion

Will residents approve of more and increased taxes when the City Council has removed citizen oversight of their spending, and has twice increased the Fire Tax in violation of the law?


References

1996 Top of the Heights

Story on Public Works Committee

Story on Fire Tax Violation

Story on Children Banned from the Park

Fire Department Rating Falls