La Jolla MAD re-argued in court: Judge Trapp asked to change her previous 'unconstitutional' ruling on Maintenance Assessment District

San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp was asked to “take another look” at her November 2017 ruling that the formation of the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) was unconstitutional, and she heard oral arguments to that effect on June 8 in the case of La Jolla Benefits Association LLC vs. the City of San Diego.

Judge Trapp is expected to issue a “new” ruling in the coming weeks.

In November 2016, a MAD within The Village of La Jolla was approved by a majority (weighted by property size) of the commercial and residential property owners within its boundaries. The MAD was then ratified by the San Diego City Council.

Community members behind the MAD led a two-year campaign for its establishment, stating revenue collected from MAD assessments would provide enhanced services in The Village, such as landscape maintenance, street and sidewalk cleaning, litter and graffiti abatement, and additional trash collection.

The local non-profit group, Enhance La Jolla (comprised of seven commercial, non-profit and residential property owners; three board members from the La Jolla Community Foundation, which funded formation of the MAD; a member of the La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association and a community member at-large) would manage the MAD, and in addition to the supplemental maintenance services, Enhance La Jolla would <FZ,1,0,19>accept donations for capital improvement projects.

After it passed, the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC was formed and it filed a lawsuit challenging the MAD’s legality on the grounds that the services the MAD would provide are services the City should be carrying out.

On Nov. 30, 2017, court records show Judge Trapp ruled that the City failed to show the La Jolla MAD would provide special benefits, above and beyond those already provided as part of general municipal services.

In January 2018, the City filed a request for a re-hearing on the judgment.

During the re-hearing in Court chambers last week, Deputy City Attorney Carmen Brock asked Judge Trapp to vacate her previous ruling.

Maria Severson of Aguirre & Severson LLP spoke on behalf of La Jolla Benefits Association LLC and argued that the court was correct in its original judgment that maintenance services in The Village of La Jolla are already being paid for by taxes and provided by the City.

However, Brock countered that her case was based on three points: 1) a lack of “standing” from the opponents, 2) that the MAD does meet constitutional standards by offering services beyond what the City can provide, and 3) that the MAD assessments will be reflective of the value of the services to be rendered.

Regarding the legal standing issue, Brock argued that in order for its standing in the case to be valid, the LLC must have owned property and therefore be subject to assessments at the time the MAD was formed. She said the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC (fronted by Lincoln Foster) formed one month after the MAD was passed and could therefore not have owned property at the time.

She called it “an after-the-fact way to get standing.”

As to whether the MAD was formed constitutionally (whether services provided are independent of what the City provides), Brock said: “Just because a special benefit would also benefit the general public, it does not invalidate a special assessment.”

She noted there would be special services the City is not in a financial position to provide, such as power-washing the streets, additional trash pick-ups and more.

Lastly, Brock called upon an engineer’s report that determined the MAD assessments charged are appropriate for the services to be rendered.

She said the engineer created a matrix that shows the value of these maintenance services. However, due to technical difficulties, the report was not available for viewing.

When it came time for the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC to affirm its stance, Severson noted that the court was correct in its original ruling, and that MAD services should be “particular and distinct” from general benefits. “You can’t make the few pay for benefits for the general public,” Severson stated.

Judge Trapp said she would review the information and issue a ruling in the coming weeks.

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