La Jolla MAD in court once again: March 29 showdown to determine district legality
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 03/25/18 - 09:00 AM | 1390 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On March 29, San Diego Judge Randa Trapp will once again hear arguments from both sides. At issue is whether or not assessed property under the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District [MAD] would receive any special benefit “over and above that” received by the general public. 

In her Nov. 30 ruling, Trapp stated, “The general public should not be required to pay for special benefits for the few, and the few specially benefited should not be subsidized by the general public.”

Noting the City felt it didn’t get a fair shake the first time around, Mike Aguirre, of the law firm Aguirre & Severson LLP representing La Jolla landlords challenging the MAD, said, “All the City said was they wanted to hear the case over, asking for more time to argue the case in front of the original judge.”

A group known as La Jolla Benefits Association (LJBA), filed a lawsuit against the La Jolla MAD on Dec. 28, 2016, in San Diego Superior Court. The Association's suit challenged the MAD, which passed by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin by mail ballot within La Jolla's downtown Village in November 2016. 

Nonprofit Enhance La Jolla was formed to lobby for the proposed MAD, and was sanctioned by La Jolla voters to administer the new MAD should it become operative. 

“Neither the MAD nor Enhance La Jolla, is a party to the suit,” said pro-MAD spokesman Bill Tribolet. “Certainly, our hope is that the City prevails in court, offering us the opportunity to make significant capital improvements in the Village.”

Enhance La Jolla has said the new MAD would privately fund and construct projects in public spaces, ensure ongoing maintenance services and enhance the Village's beauty and quality of life. Enhancement projects could include sidewalk power washing, replacement of city-owned trash cans, weed abatement, landscaping improvements, graffiti removal and gutter sweeping.

Following are excerpts from filed city documents laying out its case for the MAD rehearing.

“Petitioner LJBA seeks to set aside formation of the MAD claiming: irregularities in voting establishing the district; city failure to identify the special benefits to property owners; and failure of the supporting engineer’s report detailing ‘special’ versus ‘general benefits’ to be provided by the new district.”

The City is challenging the legal standing of LJBA in court documents stating, “ … there is no evidence that the lawsuit is timely or that it has standing to sue the city. The LJBA is a limited liability corporation formed ‘after’ the district was established that ‘does not’ own property within the district and ‘does not’ have the obligation to pay the district assessment. The law is clear that to challenge a revenue measure, a petitioner must have actually paid, or be liable to pay the assessment at issue… The LJBA fails to meet either of these requirements.” 

Attorney Maria Severson representing LJBA said landlords are arguing the proposed MAD “does not provide special benefits, but rather, only dresses up the City Charter’s mandated duty to provide special benefits. … The [MAD] district is really just a second tax on services the City is supposed to already be providing.”

Severson said plaintiffs are “looking forward to the hearing so that we can highlight why the judge’s [original] decision is correct.”

Aguirre pointed out La Jolla property owners who paid their initial tax assessment for the new MAD at the start of the year, have since had their money refunded. He added March 29 may not be the final legal action, as the case could be petitioned to be heard by an appellate court. 

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