Advocates appeal Measure P ruling confirming 2018 defeat

An advocacy group backing Fresno’s failed 30-year parks tax appealed a court ruling holding the tax was defeated by failing to reach two-thirds support.

An advocacy group that heavily backed Measure P, Fresno’s failed 30-year parks tax, filed an appeal of a trial court ruling from September that held the tax was defeated by voters due to it failing to attain a two-thirds majority in support.

Fresno Building Healthy Communities, a subsidiary nonprofit of the California Endowment, filed a notice of appeal with the Fresno-based Fifth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday.


Suing for a victory

The nonprofit sued the City of Fresno alleging that a 2017 California Supreme Court decision changed the necessary threshold for approval of a special tax from two-thirds support to 50 percent plus one vote.

Measure P garnered 52 percent of the vote in support last November, short of the two-thirds threshold.

Learn more about Measure P: Read our Sunlight Series – “Green for green”

The case, California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, held that a citizen-led initiative (such as Measure P) did not need to conform to the same timing rules as government-placed initiatives when it came to scheduling elections.

Gaab disagreed, noting that BHC’s use of 1996’s Proposition 218 to argue for a majority approval of Measure P was misplaced.

“This provision does not concern the vote required for a tax,” Gaab wrote. “Rather, it applies when the governing body of a local government is scheduling the election.”

She then cited a key portion of the Upland ruling to counter BHC’s contentions.

“[T]he voters explicitly imposed procedural two-thirds vote requirement on themselves in article XIII C, section 2, subdivision (d),” the Supreme Court held in Upland, citing the creation of the vote requirement as evidence that voters did not similarly establish timing rules.

A stepping stone with few surprises

The appeal is of little surprise to City Hall watchers, and is likely even less surprising to Gaab.

During an August hearing, Gaab admitted that the final word on the matter would be either the California Supreme Court or the Legislature.

It’s worth noting that the Fresno lawsuit is not the only lawsuit concerning vote margins for local ballot measures.

Ahead of Gaab’s September ruling, a San Francisco judge ruled in a similar case that the simple majority threshold was all that was required to approve a measure.

However, the San Francisco and Fresno cases are two different scenarios about voter expectations. In San Francisco, County elections officials declared the threshold needed for approval was 50 percent plus one vote, owing to the Upland case.

In Fresno, however, the situation was reversed. The drafters of Measure P and Fresno’s City Clerk placed Measure P on the November 2018 ballot under the two-thirds majority threshold.

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