Feb 9 2013

Alameda Decision Inspires More School Parcel Tax Challenges in January

Property owners are challenging “split roll” School Parcel Taxes that charge a flat tax for some properties and square foot tax or different flat taxes for other properties.

The December California 1st District Appeals Court decision against Alameda Unified School District‘s former parcel tax (Measure H), although vacated, has inspired challenges in other School Districts of parcel taxes approved in November, 2012 elections David Brillant, attorney for plaintiffs in the original 2008 Alameda School District case, now represents the plaintiffs in the four new cases filed in January 2013, within 60 days of certification of the election results.   Plaintiffs are requesting that illegally charged amounts be refunded.  The Court of Appeals favored remedy in the Alameda case was to grant “those taxpayers, who had been assessed the higher rate, a refund based on the difference between the lower rate and the one under which they were assessed.”

The school parcel taxes being challenged differentiate between and imposed different tax rates in one or more of the following :

  • charge a flat tax for some parcels (residential and/or small commercial and/or vacant) while charging a square foot tax to other types of parcels (commercial, industrial or multi-family)
  • charge different flat or square foot rates to different types of properties. 

School Taxes Challenged

San Leandro – voters approved  a five-year tax, charging homeowners $39, multi-family rental properties with five units or more $19 per unit, and commercial property owners $0.02 per square foot of land area.  Commercial property owners are challenging the November 2012 tax, San Leandro’s first school parcel tax.

West Contra Costa school district  –  the school parcel tax charges all property owners $0.072 cents per square foot of building area, except that unbuilt lots are taxed a flat rate of $7.20 per parcel.

Davis Joint Unified School District – a four-year tax charges that most property owners a flat tax of $204 per parcel, except multifamily residential properties are taxed $20 per unit.  

Centinela Valley Union High School District –   charges residential property owners $0.02 per square foot and commercial property owners $0.075 cents per square foot.  Two homeowners are challenging this tax.

The Alameda School District’s 2008 Measure H charged residential property owners $120 each per parcel, while charging and large commercial property owners $0.15 cents per square foot up to a cap of $9,500.  It was replaced in 2011 with a building square foot tax on all types of properties.

All five of these school parcel taxes provide an exemption application for seniors and disabled SSI recipients.  The 2008 lawsuit challenged the Alameda exemptions because “they discriminate among senior taxpayers and disabled taxpayers and thus do not apply uniformly to all senior and all disabled taxpayers.”  The exemption found in section 50079 of California statutes only applied to seniors until 2006 when an additional exemption for “persons receiving SSI for disability, regardless of age” was added.  Piedmont’s Measure A exempts only owner- occupant disabled SSI recipients of any age and not non-disabled seniors.

State Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland is promoting an assembly bill AB 59 that would allow school districts to charge different tax rates on different types of property.  Bonta has argued that this flexibility is necessary to let school districts appropriately tailor their taxes to the local community.  The original Appellate Court decision pointed out that the State Legislature can broaden school district taxing authority.

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