Special District Law

Court of Appeal Makes It More Difficult for Local Agencies Other than Cities to Obtain Voter Approval of Parcel Taxes

April 4, 2013, by John D. Bakker, Sky Woodruff

With increasing frequency in the last several years, school districts around the state have been relatively successful in obtaining voter approval of parcel taxes.  The First District Court of Appeal's recent decision in Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 135 is significant because absent legislative action it will constrain the ability of school districts, special districts, and counties-but not cities-to get parcels taxes approved by the voters.

Borikas involved a parcel tax imposed by the Alameda Unified School District.  The tax, which received the requisite two-thirds voter approval, was levied on property at differential rates: residential parcels and commercial parcels of less than 2000 square feet paid $120 per year and commercial parcels of greater than 2000 square feet paid $0.15 per square foot per year, capped at $9500.  The plaintiff commercial property owner argued that the District's tax measure violated Government Code section 50079's requirement that school district special taxes "apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property."  The Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiff and held that Government Code section 50079 does not authorize school districts to impose special taxes that differentially tax property within the district.

Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s Grant to a Joint Powers Authority of Which It is a Member is Not Prohibited

October 5, 2010, by Jennifer E. Faught

On September 23, the California Court of Appeal held that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s (“Conservancy”) $200,000 grant to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (“Authority”) was not illegal. (Robings v. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy) Challengers to the grant, including individuals, a taxpayer group, and another preservation fund, had asserted that the Conservancy’s grant was a grant “to itself” because the Conservancy is one of three members of the Authority. Because the Conservancy’s enabling act did not specifically give it authority to grant funds to itself, challengers asserted, the grant was prohibited.

California Supreme Court Holds Secret Ballots Unnecessary for Approving Property-Related Fees and Assessments

June 8, 2010, by Meyers Nave

Proposition 218 limits local governments’ ability to raise or to impose new assessments or property-related fees and charges, requiring them to submit new or increased assessments or fees to approval by affected property owners, or by the whole electorate. The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that, in such proceedings, secret ballots are not required. (Greene v. Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation Dist.)

“Voting shall be secret,” the California Constitution has long proclaimed. Since voters adopted Prop 218 in 1996, Article XIII D has required public entities to submit new or increased property-related fees (with certain exceptions) to approval at an “election,” among affected property owners or all registered voters. Another part of Article XIII D requires balloting for new or increased assessments, and spells out procedures (without using the word “election”). The assessment procedures don't include secret ballots. Moreover, a statute implementing the assess­ments section of Article XIII D requires that assessment ballots be signed, and be public documents once tabulated. The part of Article XIII D requiring elections for fees, meanwhile, does not spell out any procedures to be used. Instead, it says that local governments can use procedures “similar to” those for assessment balloting.

In Greene, the Court first concluded that secrecy is not required in assessment balloting. It treated as valid the statute that makes assessment ballots public documents once they are tabulated. The Court then held that complete secrecy is not required in fee-related elections, either--local entities may require property owners to sign the ballot with their vote. However, local entities may provide ballot secrecy if they choose. The Court left open a question whether some lesser degree of ballot secrecy in fee elections may be required; that will be up to a future case to decide.

Read more here, and for more information about Greene or assessment and fee balloting in general, contact Meyers Nave’s Writs and Appeals Group or Public Finance Group.

BART Board Authorizes Expansion of Independent Internal Affairs Investigation of New Year's Day Shooting

March 27, 2009, by Meyers Nave

The Board of Directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District ("BART") approved an expanded external and independent Internal Affairs investigation of BART officers who were on the scene at the Fruitvale Station Platform on New Year's Day currently being conducted by the law firm of Meyers Nave. Meyers Nave reported to the Board that the internal affairs probe spans a wider range, including a review of events leading up to the shooting, than originally anticipated.

A chronology of BART news releases related to the New Year's Day shooting can be found at www.bart.gov in the sidebar titled "Latest on New Year's Day Shooting, Investigation."

LAO's Budget Proposal Would Shift Tax Revenue From Special Districts to Counties

March 18, 2008, by Meyers Nave

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has proposed an alternative budget package that includes shifting responsibility for supervision of approximately 71,000 low-level parolees from the State to the counties. This parole realignment would be financed in part by reallocating property tax revenue from water and wastewater districts into a newly created county Public Safety Realignment Account (PSRA). Under the LAO’s proposal, each county would shift 70% of countywide water and wastewater property tax revenue into its PSRA, unless a lower percentage of property taxes would be sufficient to support the realignment program. While the actual amount of tax revenue shifted from each district would ultimately be determined by the county boards of supervisors, the LAO estimates that, statewide, its proposal would shift approximately $188 million, or 50%, of water and wastewater district property tax revenue to county PSRAs.

Additional sources of financing for the proposed parole realignment include approximately $178 million from city Proposition 172 sales taxes and approximately $130 million from vehicle license fees currently retained by the Department of Motor Vehicles for administrative purposes.

To read more about the LAO's parole realignment proposal, click here.

Governor Signs Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Act: AB 220

November 2, 2007, by Meyers Nave

On Saturday, October 13, 2007, the Governor signed the Firefighter's Procedural Bill of Rights Act into law. It is now codified in the California Government Code, sections 3250 – 3262.

This law closely parallels the Peace Officer Procedural Bill of Rights Act codified at sections 3300, et seq., of the California Government Code.

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