An anti-tax group has joined a Long Beach property owner in a constitutional challenge to a city ordinance that requires residents be charged a monthly fee for letting their land sit vacant.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Frederic Sparrevohn have filed suit, seeking a declaration that the ordinance is void “unless and until it is properly noticed, properly substantiated, and properly approved,” the Long Beach Post reported.
Sparrevohn is seeking a $780 refund of the fee he paid for 2022 under protest.
A representative for the Long Beach City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the suit, saying it had not been served and had not reviewed the complaint.
The city approved the fee in 2017, which aimed to discourage illegal dumping while encouraging vacant lot owners to join the city’s new Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone program.
The program’s goal was to provide opportunities for economic growth, community development, and to increase access to local organic produce, while reducing blight on vacant properties, according to the city. Vacant lot owners could link up with local growers to run ag programs.
Sparrevohn, who owns a vacant lot on Ultimo Avenue, appealed for relief to the city and was denied last month, according to the suit. He claimed to have bought the lot hoping to build a family home, but the city sought significant costs for plan review, geological investigation, police impact, fire impact, parks impact and more.
“I gave up on building for myself and decided it would be nice if I could save it for my kids so that someday they might be able to build there and not have to leave California for a more affordable place to live,” Sparrevohn, 78, wrote in a letter to the city.
He says he’s paid the annual property taxes, kept the lot litter-free and had it mowed about every other week at a yearly cost of $420, according to his complaint. He also claims the vacant lot fee, which pays for city monitoring of the vacant lots, requires proper notice to the public and approval by a majority of the affected property owners, or by two-thirds of the electorate.
“Having no such approval, the fee is unconstitutional,” his suit says.
His complaint alleges the charge duplicates the municipal code for weed and debris abatement, while targeting undeveloped property owners with a punitive fee that owners of other parcels don’t have to pay. It also alleges Long Beach hasn’t shown its code enforcement officers work any more policing vacant lots than monitoring other properties, for which it charges nothing.
“Without proof presented to the public that monitoring the selected parcels costs an extra $780 per year per parcel, the fee is void,” Sparrevohn alleges in his complaint.
[Long Beach Post] – Dana Bartholomew