Opponents of Sales Tax Challenge Ballot Question in Court

lawsuitIt was nearly two weeks ago that, challenged by citizens and Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning that the ballot language on the sales tax measure was misleading to the voters, the city council met to modify the final language.

The final language to Measure O now reads, “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the City of Davis to reauthorize and extend the existing half cent sales and use tax for general government purposes and increase the sales and use tax by an additional half cent, for a combined one cent tax, through December 31, 2020, be adopted?”

Now, despite these changes, Jose Granda and Thomas Randall are challenging the Measure O question in court, seeking to “eliminate the question of Measure O off the ballot on the grounds that it contains false and misleading statements to be presented to the voters on the June 3, 2014.”

The two Davis residents that have perpetually opposed and filed lawsuits in court against school district parcel taxes argued that they have two major issues before the court.

First, they are “asking the Court to determine if ‘a half cent sales and use tax’ is the same as ‘a half percent sales and use tax,’ ‘one cent tax, if ‘one cent’ is the same as ‘one percent tax’ and ‘one percent (1%).’”

Here they ask that the court to find “that the phrase ‘existing half cent sales and use tax,’ does not mean the same as ‘existing half of one percent sales and use tax’ or ‘existing half percent sales and use tax.’ That the Court finds that the phrase ‘increase the sales and use tax by an additional half cent’ does not mean the same as ‘increase the sales and use tax an additional one half percent.’ The materials in question are the ballot question, language from the arguments in favor and the city attorney analysis.”

They argue, “These references as they appear in election materials to be presented to the voters are found false, misleading and inconsistent with Division 9, Chapter 3 Municipal Elections (Elections Code 9200‐ 9295 and therefore stricken from the ballot.”

The second issue they raise is whether the city “may combine both the extension of a tax and the adoption of a new tax in the same Measure.”

“We try to keep our local government in check, with honesty and fairness to the voters in Davis. We cannot have a situation when the voter is presented with a false and misleading question asking them for a ‘one cent tax increase’ in tax while in fact they charge them ‘one percent tax increase’ which is completely different and for a total of 8.5% sale taxes to become the highest in Yolo County,” said Jose Granda, one of the plaintiffs, in a press release.

The lawsuit was filed on March 17, 2014, at the Yolo Superior Court.  It was served on the city clerk, Zoe Mirabile in her official capacity as clerk.

The city has yet to respond to this suit and it has not been calendared as of yet.

Thomas Randall and Jose Granda are the plaintiffs operating in pro per.

Two weeks ago, the city council cleaned up language that most reasonable people would argue was confusing.

The final language to Measure O, as indicated above, now reads, “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the City of Davis to reauthorize and extend the existing half cent sales and use tax for general government purposes and increase the sales and use tax by an additional half cent, for a combined one cent tax, through December 31, 2020, be adopted?”

As the staff report noted, “Staff has been made aware of citizen concerns relating to the wording of the measure language and believes there is merit to bringing the issue to City Council to discuss.”

According to California Election Code, the council may amend any measure until the 83rd day prior to an election by filing a resolution stating the specifics concerning the amendment. The 83rd day prior to the June 3, 2014 election fell on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

The previous language was, “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to continue to collect a sales and use tax for general government purposes at the total rate of 1 percent through Dec. 31, 2020, be adopted?”

Mr. Dunning argued that the use of the word “continue” might suggest to voters that a “yes vote will merely sustain the status quo by extending a tax that is already in effect.”

He noted, “No mention anywhere of the half-cent increase we’re being asked to approve. Also no mention that the current half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.”

Mr. Dunning immediately jumped into nefarious assumptions as opposed to sloppy or legalistic explanations.  He wrote, “Why the council didn’t simply state those facts in plain, simple English is unclear. Maybe they think we’re stupid. Maybe they think we aren’t paying attention. Or maybe they hope they can slip this one past the censors with no one raising a red flag.”

He wrote, “Apparently, enough of us complained about this abuse of the language that the council has been sent back to the drawing board after having been taken behind the woodshed by an angry electorate.”

Jose Granda in public comment argued, “It is deceptive. It makes it appear that we are voting to continue what already exists. If that is the case why we are having a special election in June?”

He would add, “Unaware the voters will be extending a tax already in effect until 2016 without the corresponding election. By lumping both taxes into one and both elections into one the Council is presenting a false and misleading measure.”

“How do you extend a tax and at the same time continue a tax on the same sentence, same election. It violates the single subject requirement of the California Constitution regarding ballot elections,” he asked.

However, what the city council has basically done is combined the current half cent sales tax with a new half-cent sales tax and extended the sunset date until December 31, 2020.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Growth Issue

    Once again, Granda and Randall are correct, half cent and one half of a percent are two totally different things. I also asked about the legallity of combining two different taxes into one on the ballot and was told it was okay, well now I guess the courts will have to decide. Is this something our legal dept. should be overseeing and making sure it’s right in the first place?

      1. Growth Issue

        Please explain, how is half cent and one half of a percent the same thing. Now if it had been worded ‘half cent per one dollar of purchase’ than it would’ve been correct.

          1. Growth Issue

            You don’t say there’s an 8 cents sales tax, you say there’s an 8% sales tax. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

          2. hpierce

            I’m pretty sure that someone buying an $18,000 car would not think they will pay $18,000.08, including sales tax. If they do, I’d question if they should be driving a car. This is silly.

          3. Growth Issue

            But why not word the ballot correctly? It doesn’t matter what people should know, it matters that it’s worded correctly in the first place.

          4. Growth Issue

            Would you tell someone they have a 1 cent CA property tax, or would you say that CA has a 1% property tax? That sounds pretty cut and dried to me that the answer is 1%.

          5. David Greenwald

            I’m assuming the legal standard would have to be that it is both inaccurate and misleading, and I don’t how it’s either even if you make the case that it’s not the most precise way to state it.

            The tax is in fact half a cent on the dollar, which is well understood vernacular.

            To me this is frivolous and Granda and Coleman face getting it slapped down and owing attorney fees.

          6. hpierce

            Not sure then, why you called him “Randall”, several times in the past, and in your article today. Unusual for a guy to drop his last name in favor of his first/middle, but guess that could happen. Tried googling the Thomas Randall Coleman refenece, and only found a local Thomas Randall, Jr (using the Jr sure implies his given last name is NOT Coleman, but ‘whatever’), who is active in the Yolo County Republican Party…. actually on the ‘central committee’. But you are the reporter/researcher, not I. Henceforth I’ll defer to your designation as “Coleman”.

          7. David Greenwald

            Apparently I have confused things, his full name is: Coleman Thomas Randall. He refers to himself as Thomas Randall.

        1. David Greenwald

          The risk is that the city could use SLAPP or other motions to dismiss and hammer them for attorney fees – without a lawyer to protect them, they might be sitting ducks.

    1. Frankly

      LOL. Republicans have taken a page right out of that Democrat play book for getting what they demand. But I agree that this one seems silly and desperate.

      By the way, the Democrats in CA have actually evolved from their previous exploitation of activist state and federal judges, they now use their tyranny of majority power in the state legislature to overturn democratic election results. For example, they are now working on overturning prop 209. It does not matter that minorities are attending colleges in greater numbers today. Thankfully one of those minority groups – Asians – stepped forward to stop it.

      Which leads me to that question about why Asians as a group continue to hang with Democrats. The fit in to that party about as well as conservatives fit in Davis.

      1. Tia Will

        By the way Frankly,

        Why is it that all issues have to devolve to partisanship for you ? Do you think that without any influence from the Democrats whatsoever, it would never have occurred to Granda and Randall to pursue these “silly and desperate measures” ? You think they really needed outside instruction in these antics ?

        1. Mr.Toad

          Hey I went partisan first. No attempts to overturn prop 209 are happening. The Dems decided not to try to undo 209 through a repeal initiative. At least that’s what the Bee reported the other day.

          1. Frankly

            Yes you did! And I did second.

            Yeah – it was three Asian Democrats that stepped in to stop it. Overturning prop 209 would make it harder for Asian kids to get into these schools as Asian kids are over-represented in admissions.

            But the point still stands… the tyranny of the majority in the CA state legislature cares not for the voice of the people unless the voice of the people furthers their agenda.

      2. Dave Hart

        Frankly, “tyranny of majority power”, really? And what would California or any other place look like if the Republicans had majority power in both houses of the State Leg as well as the Governor’s office? A paradise on earth?

        1. Frankly

          30 states have Republican governors, and in all but five of those (Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico and Nevada) with the GOP also controls the state legislature. (Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature.)

          What’s more, Republican state legislative majorities in 14 states (including two with Democratic governors, Arkansas and Missouri) are strong enough to override gubernatorial vetoes.

          Let’s look at Wisconsin for comparison.

          GOP all the way.

          Right to work state.

          6.1% unemployment

          $1 billion dollar budget surplus.

          End to frivolous lawsuits.

          17th most business friendly state. 9th easiest to start a business. Compared to 38th and 38th for California.

          #43 worst tax climate. California is #48.

          Tax cuts to spur economic expansion. This will move Wisconsin to about middle of the pack for tax climate.

          But the best thing about Wisconsin is that they don’t have activist legislators grouping together to overturn voter initiatives and ignore their state constitution.

  2. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > The two Davis residents that have perpetually opposed and filed
    > lawsuits in court against school district parcel taxes argued that
    > they have two major issues before the court.

    Interesting that when covering crime stories David never writes “The two Woodland residents have perpetually broken the law since dropping out of High School and are currently on parole with two new cases pending before the court”…

    1. hpierce

      Well, that’s different… in this case you have two upper-middle class white/hispanic, males, but folks from Woodland who break laws repeatedly, are victims of the failures of society. I see the distinction being made.

      1. Tia Will


        I see this as a societal failure to educate the two middle class white/hispanic males as to the difference between a legitimate grievance and endless hounding of public officials regardless of the merits ( or lack thereof ) of their claims. We, as a society, seem to have failed to impress upon them that not all of us are appreciative of their obstructionist tactics ….. or as they have frequently claimed their attempts to “protect us”.

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