Judge Lets AUSD’s Measure B1 Stand

 

The Alameda Unified School District announced that it had reached a stipulated agreement with the plaintiffs — Nelco, Inc., Santa Clara Investors II and Edward Hirschberg — in the lawsuit challenging Measure B1. In order to bring Measure B1 into full alignment with Measure A, which B1 is replacing, one of Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou’s stipulations requires that Measure B1 incorporate the $299 tax on unimproved parcels provided for in Measure A. Other stipulations that Petrou approved remained unclear when the Alameda Sun went to press on Tuesday. 

On March 8, 2011, 68.01 percent of Alameda voters approved Measure A, a parcel tax designed to generate some $12 million per year for seven years. That tax is set to expire on June 30. Petrou’s decision preserves Measure B1’s $12 million in bond revenue. The tax will go into effect on July 1 and will essentially serve as an extension for Measure A. 

The plaintiffs filed a suit against Measure B1 in December 2016, just a month after 72.2 percent of Alameda voters approved it. The same plaintiffs also sued the district over Measure H, a parcel tax passed in 2008 and over Measure A in 2011. “In (the 2008) lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the measure’s differing rates for residential and commercial property owners were not ‘uniform’ as required under state law,” AUSD stated in a press release. 

AUSD won the 2008 lawsuit at the trial court, but the plaintiffs appealed and won. The school district appealed to the state Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. The plaintiffs and the school district settled that lawsuit in 2014, and in 2015 the district issued Measure H refunds to those property owners who applied for them consistent with applicable law.

The plaintiffs had argued a similar lack of uniformity in the lawsuit they filed against Measure A soon after it was passed in 2011. AUSD won that case at the trial-court level. Because the courts found Measure A valid, Petrou found that Measure B1, which has a nearly identical structure, was also valid as an extension of Measure A. The judge had signaled which way the trial would go, when she issued a tentative ruling in AUSD’s favor on Oct. 30, 2017. 

Like Measure A, the money from Measure B1 will support a wide range of programs. These include small class sizes, neighborhood schools, high-school athletics, technology, elementary music, physical education classes and media centers. Measure B1 effectively extends the life of Measure A until June 30, 2025. 

The current lawsuit went to trial on Sep. 27, 2017. At stake: Did the parcel tax structure apply the tax uniformly? State law requires that governing bodies apply parcel taxes equally to all parcels of taxable property. Measure B1 taxes all parcels at a rate of 32 cents per building square foot up to a cap of $7,999. 

The plaintiffs claimed — as they had in the two previous lawsuits — that the Measure B1 parcel tax structure was not “uniform” because of the cap and because owners of parcels without buildings would pay no tax. In the end  Petrou disagreed with the plaintiffs, other than restoring Measure A’s $299 tax on unimproved property, she let B1 stand.