The California Court of Appeal held that the Los Angeles County Assessor erred by failing to remove the value of certain nontaxable intangible assets when valuing a hotel for property tax purposes. Intangible assets are generally exempt from property tax in California. In valuing the hotel, the Assessor used the income valuation approach, which looks to the current and future income stream associated with the property in order to calculate its present, taxable value. The taxpayer argued that in calculating the income stream, the Assessor failed to remove income associated with three intangible assets: a subsidy from the City of Los Angeles valued at $80 million (directly tied to the City’s hotel tax collected on the rooms); a onetime upfront payment made by the hotel’s operators, Ritz Carlton and Marriott, of $36 million dollars for the right to operate the hotel; and “hotel enterprise assets,” including “flag and franchise, food and beverage, and assembled workforce,” valued at $34 million dollars. 

First, the Assessor argued that the $80 million subsidy was not exempt from tax because it “runs with the land and is associated with the ownership of the property.” Relying on Elk Hills Power, LLC v. Board of Equalization, 57 Cal. 4th 593 (2013), the Court rejected the Assessor’s argument, finding that the correct test is whether “the asset is directly necessary to the productive use of the property, whether it is intangible, and whether it can be valued.”  Because all three of these requirements were met, the Court found the subsidy was not taxable and must be removed from the income stream.

Second, turning to the $36 million dollars paid by Ritz Carlton and Marriott for the right to operate the hotel, the Court found that the Assessor erred by treating the payment as income attributable to the hotel. Rather, the Court concluded, it “was not income to the hotel; it was a price break the managers gave the hotel on payments from the hotel.” 

Third, the Court found that the income attributable to the “hotel enterprise assets” had to be removed from the income stream. The Assessor argued that the value of these assets, owned by the hotel’s operators, had already been removed from the income stream by deducting the fees paid to the operators under the so-called “Rushmore” approach.  Following SHC Half Moon Bay, LLC v. County of San Mateo, 226 Cal. App. 4th 471 (2014), the Court found that this method failed to account for the value of these assets, reasoning that if the “fee were so high as to account completely for all intangible benefits to a hotel owner,” the owner would have no reason to pay it.

Olympic & Georgia Partners, LLC v. County of Los Angeles, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 263 (2023).