WatchSonoma Watch

Judge likely to block Santa Rosa tax on development


A judge has indicated he is inclined to rule against the city of Santa Rosa in a case challenging the constitutionality of a special property tax surcharge imposed on people who buy new homes.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil issued a tentative ruling Monday saying he planned to side with the Homebuilders Association of Northern California in its case to block the city’s new tax. After hearing additional arguments from attorneys in the case Tuesday, the judge postponed a final ruling until Sept. 28.

The case involves a 2008 city ordinance that seeks to raise revenue from new home communities by requiring developers to join a special taxing district before they can get development permits.

The goal is to ensure that the city raises enough revenue from new home construction to cover the additional cost of expanding city services to new neighborhoods. The ordinance would oblige the eventual homeowners to pay a property tax surcharge of $430 a year.

But the homebuilders argued that the law unfairly coerces developers into voting in favor of tax increases.

Tansil agreed. He wrote that it appeared unconstitutional to require landowners to give up their voting rights in exchange for land-use permits. “The city has not justified that weighty exchange,” he wrote.

City officials cite the state Mello-Roos Act of 1982 as allowing cities to establish special districts “and levy special taxes approved by the voters to provide municipal services.”

At the time the law was enacted, the city estimated that 14,000 new homes, condominiums and apartments would be built by 2020, generating $4.8 million in additional surcharge revenue for the city.

Tansil called “voter choice” under the ordinance “dramatically warped” and said the city had not shown that “the deprivation of voting rights is the least restrictive means of achieving such an end.”

City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the judge’s ruling is tentative and may change by next month. She said he requested both sides file additional briefs on four issues, including whether the builders followed the proper procedure for opposing a local ordinance.

Paul Beard, who represented the homebuilders, said he was heartened by the judge’s ruling and believed he could prevail on the procedural issues, which include whether the suit was sufficiently noticed in newspapers.

4 Responses to “Judge likely to block Santa Rosa tax on development”

  1. Catherine says:

    Don’t be confused Bear, it would be the homeowner paying the tax, not the developer. Right now, the government makes more money on each new build than the builder, and where is their risk? Why do you think contractors are leaving the state? What will you do then?

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  2. bear says:

    It is sad that developers impose costs on taxpayers that are not compensated. Such as the long-term costs for schools, fire, police, and sewer and water services. NOT capital costs, which we can get back, but the long-term maintenance and personnel costs.

    Everything built must be maintained. What part of that do you folks not understand? Streets, parks, and everything mentioned above.

    God help us if we place developer profits over the welfare of the whole city. Care to pay more taxes? That is exactly what you’re buying into, and you’re going to cry like little babies when the bill comes due. Step up and stop paying off developers and their false promises. New construction is a temporary benefit. Maintenance is permanent.

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  3. Voice of reason says:

    Thanks so much to the Homebuilder’s Association for challenging the egregious, unconstitutional tax grab by the City of Santa Rosa. The judge is absolutely correct that voting rights cannot be traded for development permits. The law says taxes for special districts must be approved by the voters. The City plan required developers to “vote” in favor of the district if they wanted their project approved. Then, that vote is used to force future homeowners to pay the tax. That’s not a vote of the people and not what the law intended. Also, the City of Santa Rosa made the whole town be in the special district, does that sound like a district?

    I remember watching the City Council meeting when the ordinance was passed. Late at night when the hearing was held, a guy from the Homebuilder’s Assn.spoke against it and threatened legal action. Thank you, Homebuilder’s Association for stopping this injustice.

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  4. Bless You Judge Mark Tansi! says:

    It’s good to know that not everyone in local government is a wacko.

    He did the right thing and it’s beautiful.

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