On July 26, 2021, a California Court of Appeal in the state’s First Appellate District affirmed a San Francisco trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the City, holding that the California Constitution’s requirement that local taxes be approved by a two-thirds supermajority vote only constrains local government entities, and does not apply to taxes imposed by voter initiative. The tax at issue was a $298 per parcel tax, which placed the revenues in a fund for restricted uses by the San Francisco Unified School District. In 2018, the tax appeared on the ballot as Proposition G and was approved by 60% of voters. San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition G was validly enacted, and the City’s complaint was answered by an interested party, who argued Proposition G was invalid because it required a supermajority vote to pass.
In ruling Proposition G was validly enacted, the court relied heavily on the constitutional analysis in its previous cases, discussed in our previous coverage here, here, and here, explaining that the two-thirds vote requirements of the California Constitution’s article XIII A, section 4 and article XIII C, section 2(d) constrain only local government entities, and do not displace the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote. Additionally, the court rejected the argument that a provision of the Constitution unique to parcel taxes, article XIII D, section 3(a), required a two-thirds vote to enact Proposition G – finding this section “does not constrain the initiative power for the same reasons that the supermajority vote requirements in article XIII A and article XIII C do not apply to citizens’ initiatives” because the electorate is not an “agency.” Finally, the court rejected the argument that the two-thirds vote requirement applies to Proposition G because it was conceived and promoted by local government officials and is thus not a valid citizens’ initiative – the court explained that such activity is commonplace and is not prohibited by the San Francisco Charter or California’s Elections Code.
City & County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition G, 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 603, Case No. A160659 (July 26, 2021).