After facing a lawsuit filed by two local taxpayer groups, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District's May 3 special election for a parcel tax renewal will proceed as planned following Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch's ruling last week.
"On February 28, 2022 the case put forth against the parcel tax was heard by the court," said LVJUSD spokesperson Michelle Dawson in an email. "We believed that the structure and process used to initiate the proposed ballot measure stood on solid legal ground and that claims suggesting otherwise were unfounded. The court's ruling supported that assessment and the ballot measure will now proceed as planned. It will be on the May 3 Special Election All-Mail Ballot," she added.
LVJUSD officials said that, if approved by voters, Measure A would extend, but not increase, the current annual tax rate of $138 per parcel for another seven years. The measure needs a two-thirds majority vote in order to pass successfully.
On Feb. 11, The Alameda County Taxpayers’ Association and Livermore Valley Taxpayers’ Association announced that they had filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the special election to impose a parcel tax on every Livermore Valley property for the next seven years. Alan Heckman, a Livermore resident and member of the Alameda County Taxpayers' Association, was named petitioner in the suit.
"The Livermore school district is needlessly wasting funds to conduct this special election. Our lawsuit calls for a court order to stop it," Heckman said in the statement initially announcing the lawsuit. The taxpayer groups and Heckman said the special election is unnecessary as it comes just one month before the June statewide election.
Jason Bezis, the attorney representing Heckman, told Livermore Vine after the hearing that they are considering their options for appellate review and future legal action.
"My client believes (the ruling) was not correctly decided or fairly decided. There were a lot of misrepresentations that the county registrar of voters made in this case and there's a severe concern with the fact that the formal notice of election makes it seem that there's going to be in-person voting on May 3 but there are going to be no polling places apparently in the district to vote on May 3," Bezis said, adding that the mail-only election is a disadvantage to those who prefer to vote in person.
"Everything about this election has been deliberately set up by the school district to favor the measure," Bezis added.
Since 2004, there has been a parcel tax in place to provide funding to Livermore public schools, which is worth a total of about $4 million per year. The tax was previously renewed in 2008 and 2014. The current parcel tax, Measure G, is set to expire at the end of June, which is why the district set the election for the renewal Measure A in May.
According to LVJUSD, the parcel tax funding is used for providing elementary science and TK-12 technology specialists, attracting and retaining qualified teachers, keeping classroom technology and curriculum up-to-date and maintaining small class sizes.
In addition to concerns over the election's timing, the lawsuit also argued that there was misleading language within the parcel tax ballot question.
"For example, the ballot question promises 'independent citizen oversight,' yet Measure A does not actually require that any committee would be 'independent' of school administrators, would include 'citizens,' or would be empowered to engage in meaningful 'oversight.' The measure also does not guarantee that the parcel tax would not be used for administrator salaries," the taxpayer groups said in their statement.
The lawsuit argued that the district deliberately used certain language in the ballot question that would be more likely to sway voters to vote in favor of the measure, citing the results of a 2019 Parcel Tax Feasibility Survey conducted by LVJUSD.
In addition to issues with the ballot question itself, Bezis and Heckman are calling attention to what they say is misleading language on the webpages and fliers that provide information about Measure A.
Over the weekend, Bezis sent an email to the district on behalf of Heckman demanding that LVJUSD "cease and desist from its claim 'By law, no funds from Measure A could be used for administrators’ salaries,'" which is verbiage used in an informational flier about Measure A.
"My client is unaware of any provision in the State Constitution or in the California Education Code, for example, that forbids or restricts school district parcel tax revenues from being expended on 'administrator salaries,'" Bezis said in his email to the district.
He continued, "My client notes that the 2004 (Measure D) and 2008 (Measure M) versions of the LVJUSD parcel tax expressly excluded expenditure of funds on 'administrator salaries.' After the 'no administrator salaries' provision was absent in 2014 Measure G, LVJUSD administrator salaries exploded upwards in 2015. That 'no administrator salaries' provision also is missing from 2022 Measure A. The 2004 Measure D and 2008 Measure M parcel taxes expired long ago and were not permanent 'law.'"
Bezis, on behalf of Heckman, has requested that LVJUSD either justify how the statement related to administrator salaries in its informational flier is accurate or remove the language from its Measure A materials altogether.
Outside of the lawsuit, the special election has not been widely publicized by LVJUSD. Dawson told Livermore Vine that, "while our district can continue to provide information about the parcel tax such as how funds have been allocated, the promotion and advocacy of Measure A lies with an independent campaign committee."
More information about the parcel tax and what its used for can be found here.