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State Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Ruling Striking Down Portions of Alameda Parcel Tax In Effect

July 11, 2013

The California Supreme Court decided on June 12 not to review a lower court decision striking down aspects of a school parcel tax approved by two-thirds of voters in the Alameda Unified School District. The decision will impact legal challenges against several other school parcel taxes approved by local voters in other parts of the state.

After the Supreme Court decided not to review the case, the Alameda Unified School District issued a statement saying:

The California Supreme Court has denied the District’s petition for review in the case of Borikas et al. v. AUSD, the lawsuit filed by parcel tax opponents challenging the legality of Measure H, a parcel tax passed by more than two-thirds of Alameda voters in June 2008 to help protect key educational programs in the District.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, a ruling in the case earlier this year by the California Court of Appeal will stand. The Court of Appeal’s earlier decision reversed in part and affirmed in part a past trial court ruling in favor of the District. That decision, which is now final, validated the parts of Measure H that taxed certain parcels $120 but also directed the trial court to declare invalid parts of Measure H that taxed certain commercial and industrial property at a different rate than $120 per parcel.

Consistent with the appellate court ruling, the case will now return to the trial court for further proceedings. The trial court will determine whether to order further remedies, including refunds of some tax revenues collected from 2008-2011. Measure H was in effect for three years until voters passed a replacement parcel tax, Measure A, in March 2011.

The dates for further proceedings in the trial court in the Alameda case have not yet been set.
Several other school districts – including Davis Joint Unified and San Leandro Unified in Northern California, and a consortium of five districts in Los Angeles County in Southern California – have similar voter-approved parcel tax measures that contain some form of different rates for different properties, and could be impacted by the California Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Alameda case.

UC Davis law professor Darien Shanske sized up the implications in an interview with Capital Public Radio, the NPR affiliate in Sacramento:

“The Supreme Court decision not to hear the Alameda case is certainly a positive sign for the challengers but it doesn’t, the Supreme Court case doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court decision. It has its own reasons not to hear the case.”

‘One possibility for Davis (and the other districts) is to switch to a single-flat rate.”

“There’s also a bill pending in the legislature (AB 59, introduced by Rob Bonta, D-Alameda) that would clarify the statute or arguably change the statute to allow parcel taxes with more than one rate. And of course if that happens then Davis could pass the same measure but with a different authorization. So there are a lot of possible ways this can go.”

Sources: Alameda Unified School District, Capital Public Radio, EdBrief staff.