Lawsuits filed over citizen tax initiative vote requirement in California

New lawsuits were filed in Oakland and Fresno on February 1 regarding an undetermined vote requirement for citizen tax initiatives.
In Oakland, Measure AA—an education parcel tax—received 62 percent approval on November 6, 2018. The official summary and impartial analysis stated that a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote was required for approval of the measure. However, on December 11, 2018, the Oakland City Council voted to certify Measure AA as approved according to a simple majority requirement after officials in San Francisco and other jurisdictions had challenged the two-thirds vote requirement for tax measures proposed through citizen initiatives rather than through measures referred to the ballot by lawmakers. On February 1, 2019, a group made up of homeowners, landlords, and the Jobs and Housing Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland, arguing that the certification of Measure AA as approved was illegal. The city had certified the measure after interpreting a 2017 California Supreme Court case, California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, as a precedent for exempting citizen initiatives from the two-thirds vote requirement that is applied to tax measures designed to fund specific projects.
In Fresno, the group Fresno Building Healthy Communities filed suit against the city of Fresno regarding Measure P, a sales tax initiative to fund recreation and the arts that received 52 percent approval on November 6, 2018. In this case, the Fresno City Council did not enact the measure and had applied the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement. The plaintiffs argued that the measure should have passed with a simple majority and are challenging the outcome. On the same day, the Fresno City Attorney’s office filed a lawsuit asking the Superior Court of Fresno County to determine the vote requirement for Measure P. The city attorney asked the court to consolidate its action with the lawsuit filed by Fresno Building Healthy Communities.
According to Proposition 218 (1996), local governments in California may only enact, extend, or increase a special tax with a two-thirds supermajority vote of the electorate. In August 2017, a California Supreme Court ruling in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland categorized taxes imposed by citizen initiatives as separate from taxes imposed by local governments, bringing into question the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement. Officials in San Francisco are currently defending a simple majority requirement in court for two initiatives, Proposition C (June 2018)—a commercial rent tax for childcare—and Proposition C (November 2018), a gross receipts tax for homelessness services.
Click the button below to learn more about Oakland Measure AA. Click here to learn more about Fresno Measure P.