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State Court of Appeal Validates Measure A Parcel Tax

In a unanimous opinion issued Thursday, August 3, the state’s First District Court of Appeal ruled that Measure A—a parcel tax approved by Alameda voters in March 2020 to fund hiring and retention of high-quality Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) employees—is legal and valid.

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The appellate court’s ruling overturned an earlier decision that the tax was illegal because it allowed lower rates for owners of large commercial buildings. Measure A levies a tax of $0.265 per building square foot on all Alameda property owners with a maximum (or “cap”) of $7999. This structure applies to all residential or commercial properties regardless of size.

AUSD Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi said the ruling was excellent news to hear just days before Alameda schools reopen for the new school year. “Our employees have dedicated their careers to supporting students in our public education system,” Scuderi said. “We are so pleased to be able to tell them that the Court of Appeal has decided in our favor, and that their salaries are not in jeopardy.”



‘The same formula…’

Measure A was designed to raise more than $10 million annually to help AUSD attract and retain high-quality employees by increasing their salaries. In May 2020, Alameda resident Leland Traiman filed a lawsuit against the measure, alleging that the cap violates Government Code Section 50079, which requires school district’s special taxes to “apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property.”

AUSD argued that the measure was valid because the structure does indeed apply to all taxpayers equally. In April 2022, however, Superior Court Judge Julia Spain ruled in favor of Mr. Traiman.

AUSD appealed the decision that month. Oral arguments were heard on July 27, 2023. The higher court reversed that decision a week later on the basis that the same formula does apply across the board.

First District Court of Appeal Justices Chou, Jackson, and Burns wrote in their opinion: “The Measure A tax applies uniformly within the meaning of section 50079 because every nonexempt taxpayer and every improved parcel in the District is taxed using the same formula.”

Plaintiff Traiman now has 40 days to ask the California Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal opinion.

 

History of litigation

During the last 12 years, AUSD has placed three parcel taxes on the ballot: Measure A, approved by voters in 2011; Measure B1, a renewal of Measure A that was approved in 2016; and a second Measure A, approved in 2020. All three taxes had the same structure—an amount per square footage with a cap on the total amount paid.

All three taxes also were challenged by local plaintiffs based on concerns about the cap. Trial judges ruled in favor of AUSD with both Measure A (2011) and Measure B1, but Judge Spain ruled against the structure. In its opinion yesterday, the Court of Appeal noted that as long as the tax structure, or formula, is applied uniformly, the fact that owners of differently sized properties may pay a different amount is not relevant.

Local funding, local control

“We are so grateful to the Alameda community for their consistent support of the parcel taxes AUSD needs to provide high-quality instruction to the children of Alameda,” said Board President Heather Little. “This decision validates AUSD’s decision to structure taxes in a way that both raises the revenue we urgently need and limits the burden on any one taxpayer. We now know this is both a fair and legal formula.”

Board Member Jennifer Williams, an administrative law judge who worked with AUSD legal counsel on the appeal, agreed. “This is good news because it means we can continue to structure local parcel taxes in ways that work for our local community and local economic conditions,” Williams added. “Given the continued constraints on state funding, such flexibility is crucial.”

More information on Measure A is available on AUSD’s Parcel Tax Program web page.

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