It 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