New legal challenge to school district’s Measure E

By From page A1 | February 14, 2013

The Davis school district is fighting a second lawsuit related to last November’s local school parcel tax, Measure E. A Bay Area lawyer who has been fighting a school parcel tax measure in Alameda has filed companion lawsuits in Davis and several other communities where such measures were approved by voters.

Attorney David Brillant of Walnut Creek is representing Davis residents Jose Granda and Thomas Randall Jr., who were active opponents of Measure E last fall. The case was filed in January and is pending in Yolo Superior Court.

Randall and Davis resident Janet Zwahlen filed a separate lawsuit in November with the U.S. District Court, Eastern Division of California (in Sacramento), also challenging aspects of Measure E. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Brillant has been representing a group of commercial property owners in Alameda who contend that the Alameda Unified School District’s Measure H, a school parcel tax, exceeded the school district’s taxing authority because Measure H charged homeowners and commercial property owners at different rates.

The lawsuit contends that parcel taxes must be assessed at a uniform rate in order to comply with state law. Last December, a state appellate court ruled in favor of this challenge. But the state appellate court subsequently agreed to reconsider the ruling — a decision that some legal observers believe is a prequel to the case moving up to the California Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Brillant has linked up with Granda and Randall for the lawsuit against Davis’ Measure E. According to a report in The Alamedan, Brillant also is representing property owners in two more school districts in the East Bay — San Leandro Unified and West Contra Costa Unified — and a Southern California district (Centinela Valley Union High School District) to bring lawsuits challenging school parcel taxes approved by voters in November. In each case, the tax is being challenged on the grounds that it charges properties at two different rates.

In the case of Davis’s Measure E, owners of single-family homes are assessed at a flat fee of $204 per year per home, while apartments, duplexes and other multi-unit residential dwellings are assessed at $20 per unit per year.

At the urging of the Alameda school board, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, introduced a bill in January (AB 59) that “clarifies existing law by stating that school districts are allowed to assess parcel taxes in accordance with rational classifications among taxpayers or types of property within a district, as long as the taxes are applied uniformly within those classifications,” according to Bonta’s news release.

Bonta told The Alamedan that “I am very disappointed that the lawsuits will effectively seek to stop much-needed funding to schools — funding that the voters (in each district) approved by a two-thirds majority.”

However, Brillant told The Alamedan that Bonta’s proposed legislation includes retroactive coverage for existing parcel taxes, and warned “that is going to trigger a massive litigation. … If they want to have themselves a federal lawsuit, that’s what they need to do.”

Bonta replied to The Alamedan that anyone can file a lawsuit, and added, “The threat of a lawsuit does not necessarily bring into question the legality of a bill that has yet to be vetted properly through the legislative process. We are committed to promoting a bill that fully complies with the law and supports children and public schools throughout the state. If, in the end, someone wishes to challenge the law on legal grounds, that is their right.”

Davis school board president Sheila Allen confirmed to The Enterprise that the district has received this second lawsuit challenging the tax.

“It is unfortunate that district resources must be used to defend this attack on its parcel tax, but the district is committed to protecting the measure that was supported by the overwhelming majority of the voters who believed that supporting their local schools in this way was in the community’s best interest,” she said.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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