Frequently Asked Questions

Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

1. What is the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MCRA)?
In the interest of further protecting and providing services to local property owners, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy formed a joint powers entity partnership with the Conejo and Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, creating the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). MRCA is a public agency of the State of California established in 1985 pursuant to the Joint Powers Act. The partnership between state and local park agencies has created an agency poised to be responsive to local needs and to provide regional services and advocacy accordingly.

Like the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the MRCA is dedicated to the preservation of open space and parkland, watersheds, trails and wildlife habitat. In addition, the MRCA manages and provides ranger services, fire protection, planning and natural resources expertise and educational programs for almost 50,000 acres of public lands and parks under its or the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s ownership.


2. What is the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy?
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was established by the California State Legislature in 1980. Since that time, it has helped to preserve over 55,000 acres of parkland in both wilderness and urban settings, and has improved more than 114 public recreational facilities throughout Southern California.

Through direct action, alliances, partnerships and joint powers authorities, the Conservancy’s mission is to strategically buy back, preserve, protect, restore and enhance treasured pieces of Southern California to form an interlinking system of urban, rural and river parks, open space, trails and wildlife habitats that are easily accessible to the general public.


3. How do the two organizations differ?
The MCRA is a joint powers authority of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. A “joint powers” entity is a government entity created under state law that allows two or more government agencies to combine forces by “jointly” exercising their powers with respect to a specific purpose or set of objectives. These joint powers agencies function as legally separate government entities with their own governing boards, enabling them to complement the work of other organizations protecting land in the Southern California mountains.

The establishment of the MCRA provides for an agency poised to be responsive to local needs and provide regional services and advocacy accordingly. The MCRA serves as the local representative for the state, bringing this important perspective to the work of acquiring and preserving open space in Southern California.


4. What is the purpose of these organizations – why can’t the city or state manage California’s parks and open space?
It is well known that our city, county and state governments are facing serious budget situations at this time. In the past, the option has been extended to regional governments to operate local parks and open spaces, and also hold responsibility for acquiring and protecting these properties, however the cities preferred that responsibility be maintained by entities such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. These organizations have the dedicated budgets and staffs to provide services ranging from the assignment of park rangers to firefighting and education.


5. How do the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquire property?
The Conservancy and the MRCA utilize a combination of funding sources to acquire land and create parkland easily accessible to the general public. These include state bond funds, such as those provided under Proposition 12 and Proposition 40; local parks funding, such as that provided by Los Angeles County Proposition A; grant funding; and from the partnership of numerous local, state and federal entities. Private donations have also played a key role in fulfilling the Conservancy’s mission to buy back, preserve, restore and enhance Southern California open space and parkland. These partnerships are the hallmark of the Conservancy’s unparalleled success in protecting parkland and making it accessible to millions of Southern California residents


6. What is the purpose of an open space preservation assessment district?
The districts will provide local funding to acquire, preserve and protect many of the last remaining neighborhood open spaces, wildlife corridors and natural land in the assessment areas, in order to permanently protect undeveloped properties, prevent excess traffic, infill and congestion and provide for regular brush clearance and fire protection maintenance. Without the assessment districts, very little state funding would be available to purchase these properties and fulfill the objective of the assessment districts. The open space preservation districts were formed based on a vote of local property owners, who are provided with the opportunity to vote via mail-in ballot on whether local areas should be preserved through a property-tax assessment. The great majority of property owners supported the assessment.


7. Why are the assessment districts beneficial for property owners?
The assessment districts allow for the protection of many of the last remaining neighborhood open space properties and natural areas. Without the assessment districts, state funding could not provide for the acquisition of most of these properties. This process enables property owners to permanently protect undeveloped properties, prevent excess traffic, infill and congestion and provide for regular brush clearance and fire protection maintenance. The MCRA also manages and provides ranger services and fire protection to the lands it and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy owns.


8. What governs the establishment of assessment districts?
The establishment of assessment districts is a common form of municipal financing. Thousands of assessment districts are established in California each year for the purposes of providing improvements to neighborhoods. These assessment districts were established pursuant to the Municipal Improvement Act of 1913 (the “Act’), with the open space preservation bonds issued under the Improvement Bond Act of 1915. Such assessment districts are often used for the preservation of open space and creation of parkland. Recent open space assessment districts were formed in Marin County, Santa Clara County, Simi Valley and Ventura County.


9. What charges are assessed to property owners for the preservation assessment districts?
The amount varies by the purchase price of the property in question, however property owners have the option to pay the total fixed lien assessment up front, interest-free, or they may be assessed an annual fee on their property tax bills.


10. Do property owners have to pay the total fixed lien assessment?
Property owners have the option to pay the fixed lien assessment at one time, however it is not required. If it is not paid at one time, an annual assessment is collected on the property owner’s tax bill over a period of 30 years.


11. What happens if property owners pay the fixed lien assessment?
Property owners will be refunded the amount they have paid on their next annual property tax bill, plus their properties’ share of the costs of issuing the bonds. Their properties will not be obligated to pay any more toward the bonded portion of the assessment. In order to provide for fire safety measures such as brush clearance and other maintenance, $4.50 will be collected on the annual property tax bill.


12. Whose responsibility is it to pay the lien assessment?
The assessments are not personal obligations; they are obligations of the property. If the property owner sells or refinances the property, the assessments do not have to be prepaid. Like property taxes, the new owner would be responsible for the assessments.


13. What does the voting process entail?
The proceedings which govern the balloting process and establishment of the districts is done in strict compliance with the 1996 Taxpayers Right to Vote on Taxes Act (Proposition 218), which was authored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association, and its implementing legislation. The basic premise of the law is that only property owners (as opposed to renters or residents outside of the assessment districts) should be able to vote on a new tax on their property. The only way to reach all property owners (including unregistered voters) is by mailed ballot.


14. How are property owners informed about a vote on a preservation assessment district?
Extensive public outreach efforts are employed to fully inform property owners about votes on preservation assessment districts. Methods of outreach include public hearings, attendance at homeowner association meetings, meetings or discussions with elected officials, the mailing of an informational brochure to property owners explaining the proposal and the vote and individual informational meetings in each of the proposed assessment districts. Information is also provided to the media, with many local reporters covering the details of the vote. The staff of the MCRA is also available via phone to answer questions from property owners.


15. What is the current status on Districts One and Two?
In August 2002, property owners in the City of Los Angeles portion of the Santa Monica Mountains voted by mailed ballot to form two open space preservation assessment districts. The measures were approved by a weighted majority of 77.3% in District One (East of the 405 Freeway to Griffith Park) and 68.1% in District Two (west of the 405 Freeway to the Calabasas border). The $40.00 annual assessment has already been levied to property owners in the Districts on their Los Angeles County 2003/2004 Property Tax Bill. However, because bonds will be sold to finance the acquisitions being made, under the provisions of the Improvement Bond Act of 1915, property owners must be given the opportunity to prepay the entire assessment less the cost of interest and the cost of bond issuance, if they so choose.


16. Who gave the authority for the Mountains Recreation and Conservancy Authority to conduct the ballot proceedings about the preservation assessment Districts One and Two?
The Los Angeles City Council gave the MRCA the authority to conduct the Ballot Proceedings on May 15, 2002, with a 10-1 vote. At the Council meeting, the Councilmember comments focused on the property owners’ right to decide on the preservation assessment district for themselves, as well as the MRCA’s outstanding record of accomplishment in acquiring and preserving public parkland.


17. What was the property owner vote on Districts One and Two?
In August 2002, property owners in the City of Los Angeles portion of the Santa Monica Mountains voted by mailed ballot to form two open space preservation assessment districts. The balloting procedures were conducted under the provisions of the Taxpayers Right to Vote on Taxes Act (Proposition 218) and its implementing legislation. The measures were approved by a weighted majority of 77.3% in District One (East of the 405 Freeway to Griffith Park) and 68.1% in District Two (west of the 405 Freeway to the Calabasas border).


18. What was the public reaction to the decision?
As noted, in August 2002, property owners in the City of Los Angeles portion of the Santa Monica Mountains voted by mailed ballot to form two open space preservation assessment districts. The measures were approved by a weighted majority of 77.3% in District One (East of the 405 Freeway to Griffith Park) and 68.1% in District Two (west of the 405 Freeway to the Calabasas border).

In advance of the vote, MRCA attended dozens of homeowner associations meetings throughout the area to inform the membership about the measure. Most of these homeowner associations voted to endorse the measure. In addition, every elected official representing constituents in the assessment districts endorsed the measure.


19. What was the balloting process for Districts One and Two?
The ballot was prepared by outside counsel and complied with all applicable law. The ballots were mailed to every property owner of record provided by the Los Angeles County Tax Assessor. As noted, every effort was made to inform residents in advance about the vote and make the ballots in a form and appearance that would cause property owners to take note of them and cast their votes – in addition, return postage was included. The ballots were collected by and tabulated by an impartial third party.


20. What are the assessments for Districts One and Two?
Should property owners elect to pay the total fixed lien assessment up front, interest-free, the amount for a single family home is $562.75. They may also choose to pay an annual assessment of not more than $40 per year on the annual property tax bill over 30 years.


21. How was the public notified about the vote on Districts One and Two?
The MRCA conducted extensive public outreach, far beyond any legal requirement, before the ballots were mailed. MRCA conducted a public hearing presenting a draft of the document which defines the assessment districts, the “Engineer’s Report,” so that public input could be included in the final document. MRCA attended dozens of homeowner associations meetings throughout the area to inform the membership about the measure. Most of these homeowner associations voted to endorse the measure. In addition, every elected official representing constituents in the assessment districts endorsed the measure.

In June 2002, each property owner of record in the two assessment districts was mailed a ballot, using the same property data provided by the Los Angeles County Assessor. Every property owner was mailed a color brochure announcing the measure, which included a notice of informational meetings held in each district. The property owners had 45 days from the time that they received the ballot to vote. A public hearing was held before the end of the balloting period in each district.

22. What will be purchased with these assessment funds?
The assessment funds will be used to buy open space properties throughout the assessment areas – there are two districts, which generally follow the natural topography of the mountains, south of Ventura Blvd. and north of Franklin Avenue and Sunset Blvd. District One extends west from Griffith Park to the 405 freeway, and District Two extends west from the 405 freeway to the Calabassas border. Very specific criteria govern the use of funds from the assessment districts to ensure that all funds are expended locally. An engineer’s report for each district details all aspects of the assessment districts, including acquisition areas, potential properties to be acquired and fiscal accountability and enforcement safeguards, including a Citizens’ Oversight Committee.


23. How will the funds be managed?
All funds collected by the assessment district will be held by an independent fiscal agent and can only be used for the purposes set forth in the engineer’s report. An annual audit must be conducted on funds expended. An annual public hearing must also be held on the assessment district.

Nine separate acquisition areas have been set up within the two districts. All funds raised in each of the separate acquisition areas can only be spent within that same acquisition area. No funds collected from one area can be spent in a separate acquisition area. Additionally, the properties acquired with these funds must be geographically distributed throughout the acquisition areas. A separate account will be established with the fiscal agent for funds from each acquisition area. All accounting for funds collected and expended by acquisition area will be publicly available.


24. Who will be represented on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee?
A Citizens’ Oversight Committee for each district has been established. The membership of each committee consists of two appointees by each Los Angeles City Councilmember representing the district, three appointees from the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Homeowners Inc., one appointee each from the three largest homeowners associations in the district not in the federation and one appointee from the United Organization of Taxpayers. The Committee will review the accounting from the funds for the measures, designate the annual auditor, and make determinations as to whether the proposed expenditures are consistent with the criteria and requirements established in the engineer’s report. The Citizens’ Oversight Committee meetings are public hearings subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act.


25. What is the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Act?
The Conservancy Act established the Santa Monica Mountains Zone and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Act was enacted in 1979 by Assembly Bill 1312 authored by Assemblyman Howard L. Berman based on the recommendations of the Santa Monica Mountains Comprehensive Planning Commission. It was signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. on September 27, 1979 as Chapter 1087 of the Statutes of 1979 and pursuant to the California Constitution it became effective on January 1, 1980.


26. What is the Joint Powers Act?
Under the California Joint Powers Act, two or more cities, counties or other public agencies can create a Joint Powers Agency (JPA). Each participating agency executes a Joint Powers Agreement specifying the JPA’s structure, scope and powers. The JPA is governed by a board of directors whose members represent the participating agencies and are usually appointed by each participant’s governing body.

The Joint Powers Act grants broad authorities to a JPA to own property, incur debt and issue revenue bonds, purchase, contract, sue and be sued, provide utility services and set rates for them and engage in selected other municipal enterprises. It may participate in a member agency’s civil service system, although it is not required to do so. One significant restriction is that a JPA cannot issue revenue bonds to acquire or construct electric or water distribution facilities.


27. What is Proposition 218?
Passed in 1996, Proposition 218 – the Taxpayers Right to Vote on Taxes Act – limits the authority of local governments to impose taxes and property-related assessments, fees and charges, requiring a majority of voters, defined as two-thirds, to approve increases in general taxes. Any proposed assessments, fees or charges must be submitted to the property owners for approval or rejection after notice and public hearing, and those charges approved cannot be used for general government services available to the public.


28. How does Proposition 218 apply to the preservation assessment districts?
The proceedings which govern the balloting process and establishment of the districts is done in strict compliance with the 1996 Taxpayers Right to Vote on Taxes Act (Proposition 218), which was authored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association, and its implementing legislation. The basic premise of the law is that only property owners (as opposed to renters or residents outside of the assessment districts) should be able to vote on a new tax on their property. The only way to reach all property owners (including unregistered voters) is by mailed ballot.