A Fresno County Superior Court judge has sided with a taxpayers advocate group’s contention that a Fresno parks sales tax measure failed.
Judge Kimberly Gaab issued the ruling Thursday, agreeing with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and against Fresno Building Healthy Communities.
“Upland is confined to its limited holding concerning the election date for an initiative.” — Judge Kimberly Gaab
Fresno voters backed Measure P in November 2018 with a 52% majority. It was understood then that the proposal needed two-thirds approval to go into effect.
But a Supreme Court ruling gave hope to the parks tax advocates that 50% plus one vote was sufficient for adoption.
Measure P would have raised the city’s sales tax three-eighths of a cent exclusively for parks and related programs.
“We are delighted with the Fresno decision,” said Jon Coupal, president of HJTA. “Judge Gaab understood the issues and was not swayed by the judge in San Francisco.”
Coupal referenced a similar case in the Bay Area.
Two-Thirds vs. Simple Majority
At issue was whether a sales tax that went for a specific purpose needed two-thirds or a simple majority to pass. Prior interpretations of Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 meant such taxes needed the supermajority.
The rules are different depending on what method is used to place a proposal on the ballot — by a vote of a governing body or by voter petition. But, a 2017 Supreme Court case confused the issue, leading to challenges for tax measures on the 2018 ballot in California, like Measure P.
In the 2017 Upland case, the court ruled there is a distinction involving the timing of the ballot measure if it is brought forth by voter petition. Fresno BHC, technically the defendant in the Measure P court case, argued that the same reasoning should be applied to the percentage of vote needed to pass a tax measure.
Gaab Finds Distinction in Upland
“However, Upland is confined to its limited holding concerning the election date for an initiative,” she wrote in a seven-page ruling.
The judge also wrote that the relevant section addressed by Proposition 218 “does not concern the vote required for a tax. Rather, it applies when the governing body of a local government is scheduling the election.”
Gaab heard arguments Aug. 14. At the time, she indicated it didn’t matter how she ruled, the case would likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court anyway. Similar cases are taking place in the Bay Area and are at different stages of the legal process.
BHC Vows to Fight On
“It is likely for this issue to eventually go to the California Supreme Court,” Celedon said in an email statement. “The fight for justice has never been easy, but Fresno BHC continues to stand with the community.” — Fresno BHC’s Sandra Celedon
Sandra Celedon, president and CEO of Fresno BHC, all but said the case will be appealed.
“The Supreme Court of California has said that the people’s initiative power in our state Constitution is one of the most precious rights of our democratic process. It is likely for this issue to eventually go to the California Supreme Court,” Celedon said in an email statement. “The fight for justice has never been easy, but Fresno BHC continues to stand with the community. We are committed to ensuring the will of the people to fix Fresno’s parks once and for all becomes a reality.”
Brand Supports Decision
Mayor Lee Brand wants to see a successor tax measure now that a judge has ruled on Measure P.
“The judge’s ruling verified what the voters and I already knew — Measure P did not meet the two-thirds threshold and the matter should be closed. Now, I am asking Measure P supporters to come back to the table to work with me to bring a sensible, more balanced initiative to the voters in November 2020,” Brand said.
Read Judge’s Ruling