Land, taxes and romance

Tom Fogarty, the Yuba City developer and owner of the 340 acres of land that will become the 1,324-unit subdivision with the romance-novel sounding name of Oak Valley is reportedly looking to sell the property now that he’s finally gotten all the approvals from the city to proceed. The project’s thumbs-up by the Planning Commission was appealed to the City Council, which in turn reworked it to keep houses from being built up into the foothills east of town. The land is located between Highway 32 and Humboldt Road, east of Bruce Road. Besides the planned housing development, the project is best known for sitting next to the former Butte County/city of Chico burn dump, whose operations were snuffed 40 years ago, leaving contaminated soil behind. Fogarty spent time and money last summer cleaning the property to get it ready for housing. Now, apparently, he wants to sell it to the highest bidder. With the entitlements to build now in place, that should make for a pretty hefty price tag.

Fran Farley, the man who hopes to preserve the historic Humboldt Wagon Road that runs just to the south of the Oak Valley project sees a glimmer of hope in the fact the land is for sale. He’s submitted to the City Council a proposal that the city purchase the land alongside the road. The city already owns the road itself. He also wants to protect the rock wall that runs just to the south of the road, but to do so the city would have to purchase land jointly owned by Ed Simmons and Ginger Drake, business partners currently locked into an ugly court battle over their land holdings. It’s all the stuff of a romance novel.

Fred Davis, chairman of the Butte County Library Advisory Board, and former Chico city manager, lobbied the supervisors this week to place a one-eighth cent sales tax on the June ballot to help finance library operations in Butte County. The increase would only go into effect if two-thirds of voters agreed. “School libraries are not as good as they used to be,” Davis told the supes. “We would love to have the Board of Supervisors fund us but we recognize that’s not possible.” He said increased sales taxes in other counties had worked well. Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, an anti-tax man in the mold of Howard Jarvis, said, “I think asking the public to accept a library tax at this time is unacceptable,” because it would “stifle the economy.” The ever-sensible Supervisor Mary Anne Houx reminded Yamaguchi, “You are not being asked to raise a tax, you are being asked to let the voters decide. There’s a difference.”

Speaking of taxes, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, let us know via faxed press release this week that he and 413 of his collegues voted to repeal the 35-year-old alternative minimum tax. That plan was inserted in the tax code in 1969 in response to public outcry after Treasury Secretary Joe Barr testified that 155 wealthy Americans had paid no income tax in 1966 by utilizing deductions and other legal maneuverings available only to those with a lot of money. So Congress created the AMT that was aimed at the richest Americans to make them pay their share of the tax burden. But the tax did not come with an inflation factor; incomes that defined the wealthy in 1966 today define the middle class. So Herger and the rest of the House (well, all but four members) acted last week to fix things. “The alternative minimum tax is an incredibly unjust tax and unless this measure becomes law, it will increasingly stampede on middle-class taxpayers,” Herger said.

Problem here is that back in 2001, the White House made its budget projections based on revenue that would stream in over the next decade, including that produced by the AMT. And with that rosy (and disconnected) picture in mind, the Bush administration sold the American public on its plans to slice taxes to the rich and still spend a lot of money. In the book Off Center, The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy, authors Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write, “Republicans could have fixed the AMT problem in 2001. They did not do so because they figured that eventually Congress would feel compelled to act anyway, giving them another big round of tax cuts. And by making the problem so much worse, they could use the projected revenues that would come in when tens of millions fell victim to the AMT to ‘finance’ still more tax cuts.” Beautiful deception.