Fate of LAUSD Parcel Tax Measure Uncertain After Wording Change

A few words is all that stands between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the chance to raise $500 million more per year for its schools.

Those words are contained in the language of Measure EE, a 12-year parcel tax appearing on the June 4 ballot. It would raise funds for both traditional schools and charters in the LAUSD.

The Board of Education approved the measure’s language on Feb. 28. It defined the target of the tax as “habitable main square footage as measured by the Los Angeles County Assessor and as maintained in the Assessor’s electronic reports.” But when the school district submitted the ballot language to county officials the following month, it was slightly different. “The square footage of all buildings or structures erected on or affixed to the land” shall be subject to the tax, the language now reads.

The difference could prove crucial.

“Under the original language, a property owner with a 1,500-square-foot home would be responsible for an annual property tax increase of $240,” Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume explains. “Under the revised language, if that property owner has a 300-square-foot garage, there apparently would be an additional annual fee of $48. Other taxable structures could include permanent storage sheds.

Under the revised language, commercial property owners could take a big hit. A complex or building with a million square feet of office space already would owe $160,000 a year. A parking structure of similar size would double that bill.”

Local business groups that oppose the measure have already seized on the discrepancy. BizFed Chief Executive and No on EE spokesperson Tracy Hernandez called it “another example of the school district rushing this ballot measure, not taking their time, not getting input from the community and those with a stake in the decision.”

Another group opposed to the measure, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is now suing to block Measure EE. It claims LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner violated the rules by ordering the change. The suit also names L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan for failing to refuse Beutner’s change absent a school board vote.

LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist has called the lawsuit meritless. A resolution passed by the LAUSD board Tuesday affirms that “Measure EE does not require, and shall not be implemented to require, collection of the $0.16 per square foot levy on improvements used for parking, whether residential or non-residential” and that “the text filed with the Los Angeles County Registrar on March 11, 2019, and appearing on the June 4, 2019 ballot, is and will be construed and implemented consistently with this intent.”