The Vanguard on Thursday afternoon received a release from Jose Granda, the frequent critic of the Davis School District’s parcel tax who ran in an unsuccessful bid for a school board seat last fall.
He argues, “Davis Measure E effectively struck down by Supreme Court decision.”
In his press release, he writes, “The California Supreme Court denied the Alameda Unified School District’s Petition for Review and de-publication of Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District. As a result, the Court of Appeal decision not permitting the creation of classification of different taxpayers for school parcel taxes is now final.”
Based on this, he believes, “It is likely the Borikas decision will lead the Yolo County Superior Court to determine Measure E is also invalid as Measure E has the identical legal defects as did the parcel tax in Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District.”
The Vanguard briefly spoke to Superintendent Winfred Roberson late on Thursday evening. Superintendent Roberson, in an email statement this morning, said, “The recent Borikas decision impacts our pending legal challenges with Measure E. However, we are also aware that the formation of a possible legislative solution may bring favorable resolve to this matter. Meantime, DJUSD will do all within its power to defend the overwhelming decision of the Davis community to support its local schools through Measure E.”
Jose Granda, Thomas Randall and Janet Zwahlen challenged Measure E in Federal and State Court.
Mr. Granda indicated that he “was very pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
“I hope this marks the end to illegal parcel tax measures and fraudulent all-mailed ballot elections. The message is clear for Mr. Richard Harris, Ms. Sheila Allen and to Freddy Oakley the County Clerk promoting such fraudulent elections” he said.
Mr. Granda said he has previously explained to Davis Joint Unified School District that their Measure E was illegal.
“I have told the school board that Measure E was illegal on several grounds, including the same grounds as set forth in Borikas. Instead of structuring a tax that was not subject to legal attack, they needlessly took a significant risk. Now, Measure E is likely to be struck down,” he believes.
The language of Measure E in question is: “To offset the continued loss of significant state funding, shall the Davis Joint Unified School District be authorized to continue a special tax for a period of 4 years not to exceed the base annual rate of $20.00 per dwelling unit for multi-dwelling parcels and $204.00 per parcel for all other parcels, and levy up to an additional $242.00 to cover State funding shortfalls ONLY if the November 2012 Temporary Taxes to Fund Education initiative does not pass?”
In their complaint, the plaintiffs challenged several aspects of Measure E. They challenged the fact that the language of Measure E mixed several issues and combined them into one single unintelligible sentence creating a ballot language that would confuse any voter into not knowing the exact amount the voter was being asked to vote for.
Accoridng to the press release, they complained that it did not apply equally to all property as required by California Government Code section 50079 and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. They challenged the fact homeowners had to pay ten times more ($204) than apartment owners ($20). They challenged that the separate issues of the $204 tax, and that of the $242 tax if Proposition 30 did not pass, should have been two separate ballot questions.
“The School Board blatantly exempted all apartment owners from paying anything if Proposition 30 did not pass but only applied the $242 additional tax to homes,” they write. The exemptions, they believe, “were politically motivated, it created a political division between those who do not have to pay the tax, but can impose it on those who own homes.”
They argue, “A group of citizens, seniors and apartment owners, had the power to help pass the measure but did not have to pay the tax. The school district had no legal authority to link Measure E to Proposition 30.”
“In light of the Supreme Court decision, if Granda and Randall are successful, the Davis Joint Unified School District will be unable to collect the tax under Measure E and issue refunds to taxpayers for any tax revenue it collects during the pendency of this litigation,” they argue. “The next hearing date in the Measure E litigation is set for July 29, 2013 before the Honorable Dan Maguire in Department 15 of the Yolo County Superior Court.”
“I hope that in the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling the Davis School District begins thinking that maybe I was correct all along during my campaign that austerity measures must begin immediately,” said Mr. Granda.
In February, the Vanguard reported the following as background to Mr. Granda’s press release and claims above.
Mr. Granda and Mr. Randall are represented in the lawsuit by David Brillant, an East Bay attorney who has also represented a group of commercial property owners in a successful suit against the Alameda Unified School District’s Measure H.
They challenged that parcel tax on the basis that the district exceeded their authority by charging homeowners and commercial property owners at different rates.
The 2008 Alameda Parcel Tax is, by all accounts, very unique. They levied a four-year emergency tax at $120 per residential parcel and 15 cents per square foot for commercial/industrial parcels.
In December, the First Appellate District of California ruled that “Measure H‟s property classifications and differential tax burdens exceed the District’s taxing authority under section 50079 and the judgment entered in favor of the District must, in part, be reversed.”
However, the appellate court has presently pulled back their decision in order for the California Supreme Court to potentially review the suit.
In the suit against DJUSD, the complainants note: “The District included two exceptions to the qualified special tax. First, the District created an exemption for a person 65 years or age or older “who occupies parcel as a principal residence.” The second exemption is for those parcels owned by one or more persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age, “who occupies said parcel or unit as a principal residence”.
They contend that Measure E “violates the uniformity requirement as set forth in section 50079. The creation of classifications of taxpayers is not proper pursuant to section 50079. The uniformity requirement in section 50079 is a limitation on the District’s taxing power and the District cannot create classifications of taxpayers.”
In particular, they challenge the notion of exemptions to seniors and disabled on the grounds that “as a result of the District’s creation of taxpayer classifications, Measure E is invalid because it exceeds the taxing power set forth in section 50079.”
Furthermore, they add, “Measure E is invalid because of the exemptions for senior citizens over 65 and those receiving Supplemental Security Income are narrower than the exemptions set forth in section 50079.”
They conclude, “As a result of these multiple flaws, Measure E is invalid in its entirety and the lien that is created against all real property within the District’s boundaries should be deemed invalid as to all taxpayers within the Authorities boundaries.”
In the meantime, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who represents Alameda in addition to much of Oakland, has introduced legislation that would clarify the state law.
In AB 59, the section is amended to read: “(State law) requiring uniform application of taxes shall not be construed as limiting a school district from assessing taxes in accordance with rational classifications among taxpayers or types of property within the school district. This subdivision is declaratory of existing law, and shall apply to transactions predating its enactment.”
“While Proposition 30 has temporarily slowed our state’s financial bleeding, local school districts are still suffering from years of cuts, and we must ensure all opportunities are available to them. Our state and our school districts are not in a position to wait,” Assemblymember Bonta said in a press release. “AB 59 clarifies existing revenue options for local school districts so they can continue providing educational opportunities in the face of ongoing state budget difficulties. This will have significant public policy and budget implications for school districts throughout the state.”
There is considerable difference between what DJUSD has done in terms of dealing with multi-family dwellings differently from single family units and what Alameda did in terms of establishing an entirely new basis for assessment.
It is also worth noting that even the court in the Alameda case did not necessarily strike down Measure H.
They write, “We also conclude these provisions can be severed from the measure and that Measure H‟s exemptions for senior and disabled taxpayers are permissible under the statute.”
While Mr. Brillant in the DJUSD suit calls for the entire parcel tax to be invalidated, that is not what the appellate court did in the precedent-setting case.
The court noted, “We are well aware that we are being called on to interpret statutory language enacted in a different economic era and in the wake of two of the most far-reaching tax constraining measures ever passed by the state electorate (Propositions 13 and 62), that the state has since faced crippling economic conditions, and that school districts and other local governmental entities are more dependent than ever on the revenues from special taxes.”
They add, “The courts, however, cannot recalibrate the taxing power statutorily delegated to local entities; any adjustment in that regard must be made by the state Legislature.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Update: the article was updated with a statement from Superintendent Roberson received at 6:30 am.