School Board Preemptively Modifies School Parcel Tax

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In June the Supreme Court issued a ruling on  the Alameda Unified School District’s parcel tax that Superintendent Winfred Roberson acknowledged would impact the pending legal challenges with Measure E.  At the time they hoped that the legislature would be able to pass a bill that would bring about a more favorable resolution to the district’s pending legal matter.

The legislation has stalled, and with the pending challenge in the court filed by Jose Granda, Thomas Randall and Janet Zwahlen, the district on Thursday decided to be proactive and alter the portion of the parcel tax impacted by the court ruling.

On Thursday, following a public hearing on the matter, the school board took action to ensure that all parcels of taxable real property will be assessed a uniform rate of $204 per parcel in accordance with Borikas.  Exemptions for seniors and the disabled remain unaffected.

Measure E was passed by voters on November 6, 2012, by a 69-31 margin and would have charged local single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings at different tax rates.  Measure E was a parcel tax designed to offset the continued loss of state funding and maintain the educational programs at a level Davis citizens have come to expect.

Following the passage of Measure E, on March 6, 2013, the California Court of Appeals issued a published decision in the case of Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District, holding that parcel taxes had to be assessed at a uniform rate for all types of parcels.  On June 12, 2013, the California Supreme Court denied review of Borikas, thereby making the Borikas decision final.

According to a statement from Superintendent Roberson on Friday, “The District desires to implement Measure E in accordance with the intent of the voters and consistent with current legal requirements.  As a result, the District has decided to implement Measure E in a way that is consistent with Borikas by levying one uniform rate for all parcels of taxable real property.”

“The District is being proactive in implementing Measure E in accordance with the intent of the Davis school district voters and the recent legal requirements imposed by the Borikas decision,” board President Sheila Allen told the Vanguard on Friday.

Jose Granda, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, acknowledged in a press release on Friday that the decision by the board has an impact on the lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Measure E.

Speaking at the board meeting on Thursday Mr. Granda stated, “What you are planning to do today in changing the wording of the ballot that Davis voters approved is the same as trying to change the score after a football game. The mere fact that you are holding a hearing to change the ballot language is recognition that Measure E as it stands has been lost.  At some point you should come to terms that you have lost Measure E as it stands.”

“I am here to give a voice to the 9,267 Davis voters that voted against Measure E.  Do you realize that by changing the ballot language after the election, you are attempting to tamper with the evidence in a case before a court of law in Yolo County?  You have no authority to do this,” Mr. Granda continued.

Mr. Granda argued, “If the Board, without an election, unilaterally imposes a tax at the $204 rate on all parcels, what they would be doing is to increase the taxes for parcels with less than eleven units and they will be giving tax exemptions to parcels with more than 11 apartments.  There are parcels with dozens of apartment and they will receive a tax exemption.  Apartment buildings with dozens of apartments will pay the same as single family homes.   This is something the voters never approved.”

Mr. Granda continues to contest the senior exemption even though it is specifically authorized in the law.

He said, “I want to make you aware that the senior exemption in your proposal is illegally misapplied.   The senior exemption of Cal Gov. Code 50079 is strictly based on the property owner’s age (65), not whether he or she lives in the home.   The senior exemption, under the law, applies to seniors that own property, whether that is their primary residence or not.”

Mr. Granda questioned the process under which the board had reached this decision.  “This public hearing is a mockery of the democratic process.  There was no notice to the public in advance so most of the public does not even know about this hearing.  Putting the notice and adding this important item which involves $12.3 million dollars from the taxpayers as a special session of the board the day of, does not fulfill your legal obligations to the public,” Mr. Granda said.

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.

Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby noted that the majority of the parcels will not be impacted.  However, the revisions to the parcel tax mean that the district will collect a flat $204 per parcel, meaning that the district will lose a large amount of taxes on the multifamily units which previously had been charged at $20 per unit, but now even large apartment complexes will pay a maximum of $204.  Smaller units will end up paying more.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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25 thoughts on “School Board Preemptively Modifies School Parcel Tax”

  1. Growth Izzue

    [quote]Mr. Granda stated, “What you are planning to do today in changing the wording of the ballot that Davis voters approved is the same as trying to change the score after a football game. The mere fact that you are holding a hearing to change the ballot language is recognition that Measure E as it stands has been lost. At some point you should come to terms that you have lost Measure E as it stands.”[/quote]

    I agree with Mr. Granda, Measure E should be thrown out and resubmitted to the voters.

  2. wdf1

    You left out an important piece of the story:

    [quote]Jeff Hudson, Davis Enterprise, 8/16/13:Davis trustees modify school parcel tax ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/davis-trustees-modify-school-parcel-tax/[/url])

    But Measure E also included a severability clause stating, “should any part of the measure be found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid for any reason, all remaining parts of the measure or taxing formula hereof shall remain in full force and effect to the fullest extent allowed by law.”[/quote]

    That allowed the school board to apply rates under the assumption that the multi-unit dwelling rate would be found invalid, under the Borikas case justification.

  3. Mr.Toad

    Granda said “Same as trying to change the score after a football game.” Depends on the rules of the game. Actually the trustees are responding to other rule changes. Granda could have accepted the will of the people but filed suit instead after a game changing ruling by the courts. So the trustees used a severability clause that already was in the rules i bet their lawyers figured out for them and then here comes Granda whining about a solution to a problem he precipitated. Granda then insists on a rule change of his own trying to stick it to seniors something no court has supported. Ultimately, there will be a few losers from this change, the largest being an increase of $82/year per unit for duplexes on a single lot. Perhaps the Davis Schools Foundation could offer to help those whose bills go up and can’t afford it. In the end i hope the action of the trustees stands the next inevitable assault on our schools brought forth by right wing anti-tax extremists. To the trustees I want to say that on behalf of the Toad family, its tadpoles and all the other little tadpoles trying to grow up and get a good education in already overcrowded and underfunded classrooms, thank you for your service.

  4. JustSaying

    Interesting. I wonder if the severability clause allows for the action taken by the district or if this just means more litigation.

    Free California’s schools–overturn Prop.13!

  5. SODA

    David, slightly off topic but are you planning to cover the Board’s Strategic Planning Process discussion at Thursday’s meeting? it was pretty interesting watchng them argue and micromanage just the part about selecting the members for at least an hour or more. Their stance of ‘we have the history, we need to make sure the plan is ok’ tells so much more of WHY there needs to be a strategic planning process and new ideas for our schools…..

  6. Mr.Toad

    “9,267 of Davis Voters, 31%.”

    There is this weird thing that goes on in Davis politics where losers cite the voter turnout percentage as a rational for undermining the legitimacy of the outcome of an election. What rational is there for this argument? Obviously, they could have turned out fewer additional votes from the non-voters to support their side and won than would be needed in a large turnout election, especially in an election where no votes count twice as heavily as yes votes. Maybe they are claiming there was some sort of voter boycott but i didn’t hear about such a move. Was there some huge outcry from the non-voters after the election. Are they suggesting some form of voter suppression? Perhaps they want to institute mandatory voting. My question to G and G is was your ballot counted?

  7. Mr.Toad

    harrington: I think Dr. Granada’s legal position has merit.

    Perhaps it does. We will need to see what the courts do about the letter of the law but what about the morality of upending the will of the electorate who voted by super majority to tax themselves through direct representation at the ballot box. Oh never mind Mike, we already know what you think about respecting the outcome of such a process.

  8. wdf1

    JustSaying: [i]I wonder if the severability clause allows for the action taken by the district or if this just means more litigation.[/i]

    It is protective language that helps to keep the rest of the school parcel tax valid if one part of it should be found invalid by a court.

    The school board, in consultation with their legal counsel, probably thought that Granda would likely win his lawsuit against the district on the basis of the Borikas decision, and sought to pre-emptively accept what that outcome would look like.

    I think Granda thought that if his lawsuit won, that it would kill the whole school parcel tax measure. I don’t think he understood or expected the severability clause to be applied this way.

    So in a sense Granda “won” but he doesn’t accept a severability outcome.

  9. Growth Izzue

    The duplex electorate thought they were only taxing themselves at $20 instead of $102, 4-plex now at $50.50, 6-plex now at $34 and so on….
    How about the homeowners who voted for it thinking large apt. dwellers had at least some skin in the game at $20 each who now no longer have any skin in the game even though many have children in our schools. It’s quite possible that if the voters were presented with these facts that their votes would’ve been different. That’s why I say the entire Measure E should be thrown out.

  10. wdf1

    G.I.: [i]The duplex electorate thought they were only taxing themselves at $20 instead of $102, 4-plex now at $50.50, 6-plex now at $34 and so on….
    That’s why I say the entire Measure E should be thrown out.[/i]

    The fine print rule applies here. The severability clause was made available to all Davis voters in the full text of the ballot measure in advance of the election. The severability clause means that all kinds of outcomes are possible and applicable if a lawsuit succeeds. That’s not a decision that Granda (or you) would accept. But that’s what the courts will decide.

  11. Growth Izzue

    [quote]. That’s not a decision that Granda (or you) would accept. But that’s what the courts will decide. [/quote]

    That’s funny but there were those that said that Granda’s lawsuit had no chance of succeeding and here we are.

  12. JustSaying

    Does this have any effect on the seniors who voted for the parcel tax then don’t have to pay it on their properties that generate only one-twentieth of the property tax the nearly identical property next door?

  13. wdf1

    Granda has filed multiple lawsuits against the district with varying degrees of success, but all with minimal impact. If this school board decision stands, then I’d still argue that Granda’s lawsuit had minimal impact on the school parcel tax.

  14. B. Nice

    GI Wrote: “How about the homeowners who voted for it thinking large apt. dwellers had at least some skin in the game at $20 each who now no longer have any skin in the game even though many have children in our schools.”

    I hope your wrong about people being this petty. Most people voted for this measure because they believed it was the right thing to do for our students, our school, and our community. I’m disappointed that these changes will mean less revenue, not that “everyone doesn’t have skin the game”, and my bet is most people who voted yes feel the same way.

  15. wdf1

    Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District affected other school districts, besides DJUSD, that passed school parcel taxes. For example, the San Leandro Unified School District standardized their school parcel tax rates this past week ([url]http://www.insidebayarea.com/breaking-news/ci_23862155/san-leandro-schools-standardizes-disputed-measure-l-parcels[/url]) in a manner similar to DJUSD.

  16. Mr.Toad

    It is amazing that so many regulars here who are anti-housing and anti-water are also anti-parcel tax. It does show an strange congruence of thought that I hadn’t connected before today.

  17. Anonymous Pundit

    Actually, it is amazing that an apparently pro-growth, pro-water, pro-tax person (whatever that might mean?) would persist in mischaracterizing those with differing opinions as being “anti”… and oversimplifying these issues.

    It should be obvious that through Measure E the voters intended to support more school funding. Unfortunately, the ballot language was worded incorrectly, and the school district’s poor ballot language can not be “corrected” by the whimsy of the court, or the creative application of a severability clause, or by actions of the school board after the election. Law derives from the people not from charades.
    The school district should put an unambiguous parcel tax on the ballot, and it will easily pass. And, before some airhead alleges that I’m “anti-tax”, I have never opposed a parcel tax measure.

    Mischaracterizing Mr. Granda as being anti-school is a disservice to him, to the issue, and to our form of government. If the government wants to pass a tax measure, then it should be done correctly. I believe that is the essence of Mr. Granda’s actions, for which he should be commended. He led a campaign on the school parcel tax and for a position on the school board to advocate his beliefs. I admire and respect him for his courage; particularly, in a community that is so openly hostile to anyone daring to question school funding.

  18. Mr.Toad

    I called Granda lots of things but anti-school wasn’t one of them. Be that as it may the point of severability is exactly to provide a way to keep technical issues from overturning the will of the people. The court decision that causes a portion of measure E to be changed came out after the election. You yourself say it would pass if another election were held. Sadly in the interim the schools would lose money that is needed now. Your solution would result in much more damage than any damages caused by this change. While you take a high minded stance on the rule and letter of the law your remedy would result in real damages to children. There may be further rulings on the legality of this solution but the lawyers for this district and others think they have found a solution to a technical problem that effects a relatively small number of taxpayers with a small increase in taxes. In my mind the disgrace is not the response of the district to a change in the rules that had been in effect for many years. In my mind the larger disgrace is trying to use that change to overturn the will of the electorate in support of the education of the children in the community because of some fundamentally flawed notion that de-funding our schools will somehow help them.

  19. Mr.Toad

    “If the government wants to pass a tax measure, then it should be done correctly. I believe that is the essence of Mr. Granda’s actions, for which he should be commended.”

    I disagree. Granda opposed the ballot issue then sued. his argument against measure E, if I remember correctly, was that this isn’t how we should fund schools not that the disparity created by the application of the parcel tax authority was unconstitutional. After the ruling by the courts he files a lawsuit that forces the district to apply the severability clause. Had Granda not opposed the tax but come forward after the court ruling to protect the rule of law I might agree with your assertion that it being done correctly is what motivates Granda, but that is not the case. The history of his actions is that his intent is to undermine the funding of the local schools and his respect for the will of the super majority electorate is the least of his concerns.

  20. Mr.Toad

    ” I admire and respect him for his courage; “

    A sentiment that only meets the ears of readers of the Davis Vanguard without the fingernails on the chalkboard background noise sending shivers down the spine.

    Only in a place where habitat for humanity is insidious, tax policy is more important than education, clean water is an unneeded extravagance and the will of 70% of the voters ignored is Granda a champion.

  21. B. Nice

    [quote]I admire and respect him for his courage; particularly, in a community that is so openly hostile to anyone daring to question school funding.[/quote]

    Granda has gone a pretty far beyond “questioning” school funding.

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