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Parcel taxes

Original post made by Jack Hickey, Woodside: Emerald Hills, on Feb 15, 2013

The proliferation of parcel taxes and the large expenditure of public funds used to facilitate their passage renders the majority of unorganized property owners defenseless. The fact that special districts, such as the Sequoia Healthcare District on whose board I serve, have the power to place parcel tax measures on the ballot should be a concern to all. And, the Democrat controlled Legislature threatens to place a measure on the ballot which would lower the vote for parcel taxes to 55%.

A visit to the Howard Jarvis website: Web Link (excerpts below) led me to suggest the following to my fellow advocates for taxpayers:

"Might not an initiative petition assault on ALL parcel taxes be cost effective, and help build a constituency?"


Within a few years after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, some local governments began imposing a new species of property tax that was not based on the assessed value of a parcel. The tax amount imposed per parcel was generally the same and was imposed without regard to parcel value. Structuring a tax in this manner enabled local governments to get around the property tax rate prohibitions of Proposition 13 and impose additional property taxes for operating expenses. These taxes have become known as parcel taxes.


In 1996, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 218 (known as the "Right to Vote on Taxes Act"), an initiative constitutional amendment sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Besides giving voters the constitutional right to vote on local government tax increases, Proposition 218 also included provisions (Section 3 of Article XIIIC of the California Constitution) allowing local voters to use the initiative process to reduce or repeal local government taxes. This includes local parcel taxes.

Under Proposition 218, local tax initiatives are generally subject to a reduced signature gathering requirement which is set at 5% of the local votes for all candidates for Governor at the last gubernatorial election. This number is approximately equal to 3% of the registered voters.

If a local parcel tax passes by a very close margin, or if local taxpayers are otherwise unhappy with an existing parcel tax, then a local tax reduction or repeal initiative can be pursued under the provisions of Proposition 218. Such local initiatives are generally the only tool taxpayers have to reduce the tax burden within their community since it is rare for local elected officials to voluntarily reduce or repeal taxes once they have been imposed.

Local initiative procedures are generally set forth in the California Elections Code. Elections Code sections can be viewed online at the website of the California Legislature at: Web Link. Charter cities often have their own separate procedures for the exercise of the local initiative power.

The proponents of a tax reduction or repeal initiative must follow all procedures applicable to the exercise of the local initiative power without deviation. Failure to follow all procedures can result in a measure not being placed on the ballot, even if a sufficient number of signatures have been obtained. Once placed on the ballot, local tax reduction or repeal initiatives are subject to majority vote approval.

Comments (7)

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

Case in point: Only 24% of the registered voters were able to impose Measure G, Education Parcel Tax for the San Mateo County Community College District on property owners.

2/3 Approval Required
Yes, 81,843 Registered voters, 339,758

That should be on the target list.

Anyone care to add their choice?

Like this comment
Posted by A Voter and Taxpayer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm

The bar for passing a parcel tax is already very high (66-2/3 %). Many parcel taxes on the Peninsula sail over that bar (netting over 70% of the vote.) And this is bad, why? Because Jack Hickey hates all taxes, even when the vast majority of people who care enough to vote turn out and approve them. It seems you won't be happy, Mr. Hickey, until 1 cranky Libertarian can stop all taxes. Isn't that the tyranny of the minority? Are you suggesting that folks who would vote against parcel taxes are too disorganized to vote? Really? Maybe they don't vote because they don't really care. Or maybe you are just out of step with the majority of your neighbors who feel that Prop. 13 gutted funding for public education and who support Parcel Taxes as one small way to push back against the travesty of Prop. 13?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

A voter:

while the bar for passing a parcel tax may be 66 1/3%, that is 66 1/3% of THOSE THAT ACTUALLY VOTE. That percentage is usually about 25 to 30 % of voters which means even at 66 1/3% of those that actually vote it isn't even close to the number of eligible voters. So, just because a parcel tax gets passed it doesn't necessarily reflect the actual opinons or wants of residents.

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

A Voter said: "Are you suggesting that folks who would vote against parcel taxes are too disorganized to vote?"

It is clear that proponents of parcel taxes are much better organized than would be opponents. And, they have the benefit of taxpayer funded campaign strategy surveys, such as the $140,000 spent by the Redwood City School District to hire Godbe and Tramutola. Web Link Then we have the $64,000 campaign contribution from the SMCCCD Foundation. Web Link

That is why I asked my fellow advocates for taxpayers:
"Might not an initiative petition assault on ALL parcel taxes be cost effective, and help build a constituency?" Such organization is essential to stem the tide of growth in government.

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Posted by A voter
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Yes, thank you for stating the obvious. In order for someone's vote to be counted, they have to actually vote. Very apt...Those who don't vote perhaps don't care? Why do YOU think they don't vote? Voting is not hard. I've voted in every election since I turned 18 - it is not rocket science to fill out a voter registration card and it is basic citizenship to educate yourself and vote on the issues that you care about.

So, why do you think that those who choose not to vote do so because they are not "organized?"

So what you're saying is that you'd rather disallow parcel taxes from being put onto ballots because you can't defeat them the old-fashioned way (by actually voting?) Hmm.

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm

A Voter, the old fashioned way is by 2/3 vote. I can live with that, but apparently the public employee and teacher unions can't. I hope you will vote against the proposed constitutional amendment which would lower it to 55% or less. And, while you're at it, won't you help restore the 2/3 vote requirement for bond measures?

Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm

A Voter, why do you ignore the issue of "taxpayer funded campaign strategy surveys"? Don't you support the First Amendment? Government agencies "speak" with taxpayer money. Legitimate opponents of tax measures receive no tax subsidy.
A level playing field does not exist.

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