Local Taxes

Voters Approve One of the Six Local Tax Measures on March 2 Ballots

voting ballot

Preliminary election results indicate that only one of the local taxes on March 2 ballots was approved by voters, while three were rejected and the fate of two remains uncertain based on early results.

All of the measures would earmark revenue for specific purposes, making them special taxes that require at least two-thirds of the vote to pass.

The measure that clearly passed will impose a parcel tax in a Marin County district that includes just 22 improved parcels, and was placed on the ballot at the urging of property owners who argued that the tax will pay for badly needed road repairs. Preliminary vote totals show the measure was supported by 25 of the 31 voters whose ballots have been tallied so far.

A parcel tax placed on the ballot by the San Marino Unified School District in Los Angeles County had 62.8 percent of the vote in the preliminary count, leaving it almost 4 percentage points shy of passage.

Prior to the vote, district Superintendent Jeff Wilson wrote a “Dear Friends” letter in which he described the tax increase as a plan to “merely extend this local source of funding,” and said the lack of a sunset date is a good thing for taxpayers.

“The total amount the District receives from the tax will not substantially change and your tax rate will also not be affected,” Wilson wrote. “The main difference is that this measure will be in place until voters decide not to renew it. This will save the district over $200,000 for every election and will provide stable secure funding for our schools.”

While Wilson’s letter clearly advocates for the tax by describing it in glowing terms, downplaying the cost to property owners, warning of teacher layoffs if the measure fails, and describing the never-ending annual inflation increases as a good thing for taxpayers – “This new measure limits future annual increases to no more than 3 percent” – the superintendent included a disclaimer: “The purpose of this letter is not to endorse Measure E, which the District is precluded by law from doing. Instead, the District wishes to provide you some background information about the Measure and to encourage you to research the issue and take the time to vote.”

In Sonoma County, the West Sonoma County Union High School District used a biased ballot question for Measure A, asking voters: “To renew and provide stable funding at Analy, El Molino and Laguna High Schools that the State cannot take away; protect music, art, dance, shop, culinary and other career technical programs; retain teachers/staff; keep class sizes low; shall the West Sonoma County Union High School District measure to levy $48.00 per parcel annually for three years be adopted, raising $1,150,000 annually, have no funds for administrators’ salaries, provide a senior citizens’ exemption and have all funds stay local?”

The district also sent a skewed letter to parents designed to build support for Measure A, and a list of “frequently asked questions” that includes this campaign-style message as an answer to the question, “What is a parcel tax?”: “Parcel taxes fund needs at the District that usually come out of the general fund. Current parcel taxes are used to upgrade technology in classrooms, maintain small class sizes, provide counseling and library services, and maintain music, art, and drama programs.”

Measure A failed, however, receiving just 55 percent of the vote in the preliminary tally.

Measure A was opposed by the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association. Executive Director Dan Drummond wrote in a ballot argument: “Sadly, we’re watching a slow-moving train wreck. Years of declining enrollment have left the West Sonoma County High School District with expensive facilities it no longer needs. …. The choice is a harsh one, but not particularly complicated. Either we raise taxes to maintain facilities no longer needed and further increase the cost of housing as we do so, or we tell the District trustees to do the job for which they were elected. It’s time to trim surplus facilities from the balance sheet and cut expenses.”

Local Tax Measure Results From March 2 Elections

Type of Measure County Jurisdiction Ballot Designation Description Estimated Annual Tax Increase Result % Yes Vote
Parcel Tax Fresno City of Orange Cove Measure S Imposes a parcel tax for four years to support police and fire emergency services at the following rates: $36 for each single-family residential and agricultural parcel, $25 per multifamily unit, $180 per commercial parcel and $275 per industrial parcel. $98,000 Fail 59.46
Parcel Tax Los Angeles San Marino Unified School District Measure E Indefinitely extends a $968 parcel tax to support the district’s operations. $4,000,000 Too Close to Call 62.82
Parcel Tax Marin Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Measure A Imposes a $297 parcel tax beginning July 1, 2021, for seven years in Flood Zone No. 7A with revenue used for the Gallinas Levee Upgrade Project. $196,000 Too Close to Call 66.19
Parcel Tax Marin Ridgewood Avenue Permanent Road Division Measure B Imposes an immediate $1,620 parcel tax for 10 years beginning 2021-22 and thereafter assesses on all parcels $200 per year for ongoing maintenance to support the district’s operations. $356,500 Pass 81.25
Parcel Tax Sonoma West Sonoma County Union High School District Measure A Imposes a $48 parcel tax for three years to support the district’s operations. $1,150,000 Fail 55.25
Transient Occupancy Tax Sonoma West County Transient Occupancy Tax Area Measure B Adds an additional 4 percent transient occupancy tax (hotel tax) indefinitely to support paramedic emergency services and schools. $2,700,000 Fail 60.21