Davis district parcel tax gets overhaul

08/20/2013 12:00 AM

08/20/2013 11:55 AM

Davis school leaders eliminated a legally vulnerable section of the city's parcel tax last week, hoping to preserve the rest of a voter-approved measure they expect to generate $3 million annually.

The move comes after the state Supreme Court ruled in June that a comparable measure in Alameda violated state law by charging different rates based on parcel type.

Because Davis' Measure E contained per-unit rates for apartment owners and a flat rate for other parcels, it faces legal risks and drew a lawsuit from a former Davis school board candidate who opposed the parcel tax last year.

Voters approved Measure E by a 69 percent to 31 percent vote in November, extending a parcel tax for four years at $20 per unit for multifamily housing – typically apartment buildings – and $204 per parcel for other properties.

On Thursday, Davis Joint Unified School District trustees held a special meeting to remove the measure's apartment-building component, leaving a uniform tax of $204 per parcel. According to agenda materials, the district contends that a "severability clause" in the measure allows parts of the tax to stand if courts rule other portions invalid.

"We wanted to be in compliance with current law," said Sheila Allen, president of the school board. "We think that we are following current law."

But Jose Granda, a California State University, Sacramento, professor and former Davis school board candidate who opposed Measure E last year, said only a court can decide which components of a measure remain, if any.

Granda has a pending lawsuit in Yolo Superior Court challenging Davis' measure.

"They're basically doing surgery to the ballot language," Granda said. "They should not cheat the public and cheat the electorate. That's an abuse of process."

Granda said that given the changes to the measure, voters deserve the ability to vote on a new version.

"They should scrap it and submit it to the voters again," he said. "That's the right thing to do."

A consultant's report included in last week's agenda packet said the edited parcel tax would raise $3.085 million annually through a tax on 15,135 parcels.

The district plans to spend about a quarter of the money on class-size reduction, and another quarter on "core classes," according to the report. The next biggest shares go toward foreign language classes, electives and counselors.

The measure exempts seniors and recipients of Supplemental Security Income from paying the tax, as well as property owners who live outside Davis but within school district boundaries.

Davis Joint Unified School District Superintendent Winfred Roberson said Monday the revision "follows the requirements of the Borikas decision" and "respects the intent of the voters."

Granda said he supports publicly funded education, but he believes that Davis schools should rely on voluntary contributions to their nonprofit foundation to supplement regular tax dollars.

Local election officials said they are confused as to what to do – but not necessarily surprised, chalking it up as another chapter in Davis' lively political narrative.

"We can't – and don't – have a seat at the table. At this point, we're out of it," said Tom Stanionis, chief of staff at Yolo County Elections. "You ask my reaction, and it's bemusement at the situation Davis once again finds itself in."

Call The Bee's Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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