Court of Appeal issues opinion in favor of Alameda USD parcel tax

On Aug. 3, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California issued its opinion in the case of Traiman v. Alameda Unified School District, reversing the lower court’s decision and validating the tax levied by the school district. The case relates to Measure A, a qualified special tax voted on and approved by voters in Alameda USD in 2020. Specifically, Measure A authorized a tax on improved parcels at “the rate of $0.265 per building square foot not to exceed $7,999 per parcel.”

Leland Traiman challenged the approved tax by filing a Complaint for Invalidation in May 2020, arguing that it was invalid because it violated Government Code section 50079, which requires school district-levied qualified special taxes to be uniformly applied to taxpayers or property within the district. Traiman took particular issue with the $7,999 cap on the tax and argued that it created different rates for taxpayers depending on the size of the improved parcel. The superior court agreed with Traiman that the tax was not applied uniformly and invalidated it. The district appealed and CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance filed an amicus brief in the case in support of Alameda USD and the authority of school districts to impose uniform taxes.

The Court of Appeal found that “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. Neither the language in the statute, case law, legislative history, nor public policy indicates that a school district cannot base a qualified special tax on building square footage with a maximum tax per parcel.” The court’s decision provides a detailed analysis of Section 50079’s language and legislative history, as well as public policy related to it and case law on the topic of uniformity in tax structures.

Importantly, the court points out that the statutory language of Section 50079 requires “that the same tax be imposed on all taxpayers or properties in the district and not target a particular class of property or taxpayer [however] the statute does not further require that the application of the tax result in identical effective tax rates for every taxpayer and every property.” To support this conclusion, the court analyzes another Alameda USD tax case, Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District. In Borikas, the court invalidated parts of a qualified special tax when it held that the tax was not applied uniformly as required by Government Code section 50079, because different tax rates were imposed on different types of property. The Traiman case, the court stated, is distinct from Borikas and therefore deserved different treatment.

To support the necessity for uniform application but not uniform outcome when considering a school district imposed qualified tax, the court also emphasizes the legislative history and underlying public policy of Section 50079. The court concluded that “the overwhelming sentiment in the legislative history is the need to restore school district taxing authority,” and “there is no indication that [Measure A] is anything the Legislature did not want school districts to do.” This analysis and resulting conclusions align with the arguments made in the ELA’s amicus brief.