13

No fair property taxes in Alameda

This week in “Life on the Island,” the column I write for the Alameda Journal, I discuss the legacy of Proposition 13, which leaves newer property owners, of both homes and businesses, paying property taxes much higher—sometimes three or four or five times higher—than those who bought earlier. (Property tax information is public and you can look it up by parcel or address here.)

Measure H, the Alameda school tax passed in June, assesses businesses based on square footage, which is, to my mind, closer to fair than a flat per parcel tax, which taxes the owners of mansions and hovels identically, the owners of large tracts of land the same as those who own a small parcel.

A Prop. 13 supporter once described the 1978 law to me as a ‘double-edged’ sword, by which I think he meant it was bad when you first purchase a property, but gets better over time. But Prop. 13 has created a system of taxation so inequitable that it has turned out to be a very bad thing over time, not just because of its pronounced lack of fairness but, too, because it fails to raise enough money to support the infrastructure and services our state requires.

4

Alameda’s Measure H lawsuit. Devil details.

As you have likely heard (Michele Ellson‘s got a link to the lawsuit) attorney David Brillant has filed suit on behalf of George Borikas in Alameda County Court against Measure H, the Alameda school parcel tax which passed in June 2008.

The suit alleges that Measure H violates the portion of California’s Education Code which stipulates that school parcel taxes must be ‘uniform’ and allows for seniors and people with disabilities to be exempted from them. Here’s the California code:

50079. (a) Subject to Section 4 of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution, any school district may impose qualified special taxes within the district pursuant to the procedures established in Article 3.5 (commencing with Section 50075) and any other applicable procedures provided by law.
(b) (1) As used in this section, “qualified special taxes” means special taxes that apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the school district, except that “qualified special taxes” may include taxes that provide for an exemption from those taxes for taxpayers 65 years of age or older or for persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age.
(2) “Qualified special taxes” do not include special taxes imposed on a particular class of property or taxpayers.

And here’s the complaint, which talks about the requirement that parcel taxes be ‘uniform’ and, too, raises what seems to be the issue of seniors or people with disabilities having to actively opt out of the tax:

The qualified special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H, as approved by the registered voters of the District, is not consistent with the uniformity requirement as set forth in Government Code Section 50079. Additionally, the special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H contains exemptions from the qualified special tax yet imposes additional requirements for taxpayers to meet the exeptions that are not contained in Government Code Section 50079. For these reasons, the District’s qualified special tax against residential, commercial and industrial property, as set forth in Measure H, are not a valid or lawful lien on the real property of Borikas herinabove described, and any attempt by defendants to collect unpaid assessments from Borikas would be unlawful and improper.

For some background on why districts rely on parcel taxes as a way of funding education, I found this useful and, too, at least one area district, Albany, has a parcel tax (passed in 2005) with a structure similar to Alameda’s: it’s $250 per parcel and $.05 per square foot nonresidential. Other local parcel taxes with variable levels of taxation include Emeryville, Berkeley, and Piedmont. A quick look at some area parcel taxes and how they handle exemptions for seniors/people with disability/low income people, reveals they operate much like Alameda’s. Here’s San Francisco, Oakland, and Emeryville.