Photo: David McNew, Getty

In these days of rampant and uncivil disagreement, you could probably put a resolution in praise of oxygen on the ballot and still not get a two-thirds majority. But because of Proposition 13, that’s just what any government entity in California has to do in order to levy or raise taxes.

But on May 3, Bay Area voters weighed in on a dozen proposed parcel taxes in their individual school districts, passing eight of them.

And what are parcel taxes? From Ballotpedia:

Parcel tax elections are held when a taxing district in California wants to raise revenues through imposing an additional tax called a parcel tax. The taxes are a form of property tax, which must be paid by the owners of parcels of real estate. However, unlike standard property taxes, which are based on the value of the property, a parcel tax is an assessment based on the characteristics of the parcel. School districts have created assessments that range from flat amounts per parcel to assessments based on parcel lot square footage or building square foot. Some school districts have assessed residential parcels using one method and non-residential using another method.

So how’d these school districts manage do it? Campaign consultants! says this Bay Citizen report. On the other hand, Ballotpedia says that 54% of all parcel tax elections in California have passed since 1983.

Here’s a round-up of results for all the parcel taxes on the ballot May 3rd:

  • Parcel tax for Los Altos school district ekes out win (Palo Alto Daily News) – “Voters narrowly passed the Los Altos School District’s controversial $193 annual parcel tax, updated election results show.”
  • Sunnyvale School District’s Measure B passes with nearly 70 percent approval (San Jose Mercury News) – “More than 7,000 voters passed the Sunnyvale School District’s first parcel tax Tuesday…Measure B will cost property owners in the school district $59 annually for seven years starting in July.
  • Los Gatos Measure A Parcel Tax Gets Voter Approval (Los Gatos Observer) – “The $49 parcel tax will be assessed for six years to residents in the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District. It passed Tuesday evening in an all-mail election.”
  • Voters approve second parcel tax in 2 years for Cupertino Union School District (Cupertino Courier) – “For the second time in two years, residents in the Cupertino Union School District voted for higher taxes to help fund their neighborhood schools. Measure C, a ballot measure asking residents to approve a second $125 per parcel tax, was passed on May 3.”
  • Dixie parcel tax passes with ease (Marin Independent Journal) – “Voters overwhelmingly approved a parcel tax hike Tuesday in the Dixie School District, raising the annual tax by $107, to a new total of $352, for the next eight years.”
  • Parcel tax for Ravenswood schools passes (San Jose Mercury News) – “Measure B will increase the current tax for East Palo Alto and some Menlo Park residents from $98 to $196 and extend it four more years.”
  • Lafayette voters pass Measure B school tax (Contra Costa Times) – “The initial count of 10,048 ballots shows Measure B, a $176-per-parcel tax, passing with 74 percent of the vote, easily clearing the required two-thirds voter approval threshold.”
  • San Carlos voters overwhelmingly pass $110.60 parcel tax for schools – San Carlos residents overwhelmingly extended for eight more years a $110.60 annual parcel tax that will help schools weather the rough economy, Tuesday’s preliminary election results show.
  • Pleasanton school district moves forward after parcel tax defeat, expects more cuts (Contra Costa Times) – “The Alameda County Registrar of Voters issued updated results Wednesday for Tuesday’s special mail-only election for Measure E. Only 65.31 percent of those casting ballots voted for the $98-per-parcel tax, shy of the required two-thirds majority.”
  • New Haven tax supporters cry foul as measure is defeated (Contra Costa Times) – Supporters of the New Haven school district’s proposed parcel tax cried foul Wednesday, saying some ballots weren’t counted as the measure was defeated in an agonizingly close mail-in election…The $180-per-parcel tax would raise about $3 million a year for the cash-strapped district, which is facing layoffs and other cuts, including raising K-3 class sizes to 30-to-1, reducing work days, eliminating the adult education program, and eliminating funding for extracurricular and co-curricular programs.
  • Jefferson Union High School District parcel tax fails (SF Examiner) – “Residents in Daly City, Brisbane, Colma and Pacifica rejected Measure C, a $96-per-year tax that would have lasted for four years.”
  • John Swett parcel tax measure losing (Contra Costa Times) – “The tax would have cost $60 per residential parcel and 0.0085 of 1 cent per square foot for commercial and industrial properties over four years, raising about $990,000 a year for local schools. It included an exemption for seniors and an oversight committee.”

Update 4:10 p.m. You know who doesn’t like parcel taxes? The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Here’s their guide to defeating them.

Parcel Tax Roundup: Impressive Wins for Bay Area School Districts 5 May,2011Jon Brooks


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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