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Resurrection of Measure P? Ruling Gives Parks Tax New Hope



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A court ruling regarding a San Francisco tax measure may breathe new life in Fresno’s 2018 sales tax measure for parks.

As Dominic Fracassa of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the California First District Court of Appeal affirmed a lower-court decision that a tax measure for a specific purpose needs only a majority vote to pass instead of the two-thirds threshold — when placed on the ballot through the petition process.

While the ruling applies specifically to November 2018’s Measure C in San Francisco, the same concept could apply to Fresno’s Measure P.

Fresno voters approved the three-eighths cent sales tax increase with nearly 53% of the vote, but when it failed to garner two-thirds, the city declared that it had failed.

Measure P was estimated to raise $38 million a year (prior to COVID-19) for city parks, trails, and related programs. The tax would last for 30 years.

Because the city ruled Measure P did not pass, the sales tax did not increase, and no funds have been collected.

Advocates for Measure P sued, lost in civil court, and appealed. That case is being heard by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, based in Fresno.

Similarities in San Francisco, Fresno cases

Like Measure P, San Francisco’s Measure C would increase taxes for a specific purpose, mainly for homeless services. Both measures were placed on the ballot by petition, as opposed to a government agency (i.e. a city council) voting to place it in front of voters.

And, that’s where the crux of the argument lies. Through changes to the state Constitution by Propositions 13 and 218, any tax for a specific purpose needed two-thirds approval for passage.

A 2017 state Supreme Court ruling, California Cannabis Coalition vs. City of Upland, ruled that such rules only applied to tax questions placed on the ballot by the government, not the people.

However, Upland dealt with only one specific aspect, namely the timing of an election. It did not rule on the threshold needed — majority vs. two-thirds — to pass.

San Francisco Court: Only Majority Vote Needed

In the San Francisco case, the appeal court found that Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 initiative that mainly restricted increasing property taxes, did not intend to restrict voting thresholds.

“We find in the official ballot pamphlet nothing to support an inference that the voters adopting Proposition 13 intended to limit their own ability to raise local taxes by initiative, and to adopt such initiatives by majority vote,” Justice Alison Tucher wrote for the 3-0 appellate panel.

“We will not apply the two-thirds vote requirement to local citizens’ initiatives,” the 29-page ruling stated.

The court also found that Proposition 218, passed in 1996, also applied only to tax measures placed by “local government.”

Still Likely to Head to Supreme Court

Last September, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Gaab ruled that Measure P did not pass, but indicated that the issue would eventually be resolved by the state Supreme Court or Legislature.

Fresno BHC appealed that decision to the Fifth District Appellate Court, where the parties are now exchanging briefs. The court ruled against consolidating the cases but agreed to consider them together.

Attorneys for Fresno BHC said they were not authorized to respond, referring the matter to their client. Fresno BHC did not respond to GV Wire’s request for comment before publication of this story.

The city, through spokesman Mark Standriff, said it doesn’t discuss ongoing legal issues.

Measure P Opponents Concerned

Michael Der Manouel Jr., a Fresno political analyst and Measure P opponent, is concerned about how the recent court ruling may advance the tax measure.

I think if the appeal court rulings is upheld and applied retroactively to Fresno’s Measure P and invalidates the election result, it will be a grave injustice against the voters of Fresno,” Der Manouel said.

He said the No on P campaign was designed to prevent two-thirds passage.

“If that target is moved after the election is done and certified, clearly it is unfair,” Der Manouel said.

(Disclosure: GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi opposed Measure P and contributed to the opponents’ efforts.)

Read the San Francisco Appeal Court Ruling

SF DCA Ruling A158645 (Text)

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email