State Supreme Court Refuses to Consider Challenge to Measure A

Alameda Unified School District
Alameda Unified School District

State Supreme Court Refuses to Consider Challenge to Measure A

The Supreme Court of California will not review the Court of Appeal’s recent opinion holding that Alameda Unified School District’s (AUSD) Measure A parcel tax is legal and valid. The refusal was announced on Oct. 26. The denial means that Measure A, the district’s parcel tax on property owners, can no longer be challenged in court, and the school district can continue to use the revenue raised to support AUSD programs and employees.

“We structure our parcel taxes to raise revenue for local programs and salaries while also being fair to our local property owners,” said AUSD Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi in a press release. “A small group of residents has challenged this structure repeatedly over the years. It is an enormous relief to know that our structure is sound, this revenue is safe, and we can continue to focus our resources on providing high-quality schools and instruction for our community’s children.”

Alameda voters approved Measure A in March 2020 with 67 percent approval vote. It was designed to raise more than $10 million annually to help AUSD attract and retain high-quality employees by increasing their salaries. The measure levies a tax of $0.265 per building square foot on all Alameda property owners with a maximum (or “cap”) of $7,999. This structure applies to all properties regardless of type (i.e., residential or commercial) or size (i.e., large or small). The tax will expire by June 2027.

In May 2020, Alameda resident Leland Traiman filed a lawsuit against the measure, alleging the cap violates a state law that requires a 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, Superior Court Judge Julia Spain ruled in favor of Traiman. AUSD appealed the decision that month. Oral arguments were heard on July 27, and on August 4, the First District Court of Appeal reversed Judge Spain’s decision.

“The Measure A tax applies uniformly within the meaning of section 50079,” the justices wrote, “because every nonexempt taxpayer and every improved parcel in the District is taxed using the same formula.”

On Sept. 11, Traiman filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s opinion; however, during its weekly conference, the Supreme Court refused to hear the legal challenge.

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

All three taxes have been 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 (which was an extension of Measure A). Judge Spain ruled against the same structure in the 2020 Measure A.

Taken together, Measures B1 and A provides more than $22 million to AUSD’s annual budget, nearly 20% of the total. “In the face of ever-deficient state funding, we are grateful to our community for understanding the need for this funding and for generously approving these revenue measures in past elections,” said AUSD Board President Heather Little.

AUSD said it is currently exploring options to recoup the costs associated with this litigation.