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Grand jury urges new school parcel tax exemptions process

Original post made on Jul 16, 2017

A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Report stated that the Palo Alto Unified School District is among the 22 school districts that have been asked to improve their parcel tax application and renewal procedures.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, July 16, 2017, 9:14 AM

Comments (29)

4 people like this
Posted by Three more years
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 16, 2017 at 9:55 am

What about other parcel taxes with exemptions? Is there a central place where we can learn about all possible exemptions?

If seniors want to vote yes for something they don't intend to pay themselves, they should think a little harder about the issue and not just look at the surface. If that many seniors had voted no on that parcel tax instead of yes, it would have sent a powerful message to the district at that time and we might have gotten better impetus to change. This happened once before, the district is capable of asking for the money again. We all know what happened, they didn't use the money for the dire needs expressed and still ended up in financial trouble during flush times. A no vote would have given a fairly weak-spined superintendant at least something if a mandate from the community. A yes caused him to dismiss the critics and clearly feel he needed to curry favor with the staff by buying them rather than being accountable to the community.

We are hanging on by a thread so I get it, but if that many seniors had voted no, they would have done a lot more for our schools than voting yes did. And they could have helped bring the revised ask the next time. We'll be asking for our exemption, too, I expect as current parents who had to pay thousands for lawyers to mediate for special needs, and educational services their children should have had in school get older, they will feel it will be small recompense to opt out.

Does anyone have a list of all the parcel taxes that seniors can opt out of?


3 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 16, 2017 at 11:41 am

Can anyone confirm that disabled Palo Altans are exempt from parcel taxes?

If so, please provide the link(s) to apply for the exemption. Thanks!


3 people like this
Posted by Three More Years
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm

S@Abitarian,
I think there are no disabled Palo Altans. City Council has approved only developments for many years that the mobility-impaired could never live in. They approve initiatives to improve walkability but do nothing to improve walkability, in fact, make people build up to the sidewalk so there is no room for the disabled to really use the narrow, obstacle-strewn sidewalks.

People with invisible disabilities are not going to want to give their information to people in the school district if they know anything about the evil scheming that goes on down there, and even if they don't, people with invisible disabilities usually put so much effort into "passing", they are unlikely to want to get the exemption if they are integrated enough to own property. Statistics on all people with disabilities and employment are brutal, and someone pasing at their work may not think it's worth the risk of losing their job if others knew. That is, if there are any people left with disabilities here. Thus must be one of the most willfully ignorant places when it comes to disability that I have ever known. Which is so sad because techies are always crowing about how they want to innovate to help the disabled.


3 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 16, 2017 at 4:15 pm

For those who do wish to apply for a disability exemption from the Palo Alto Unified School District, here is the information:

Web Link


24 people like this
Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm

@Three more years : "If seniors want to vote yes for something they don't intend to pay themselves, they should think a little harder about the issue and not just look at the surface. If that many seniors had voted no on that parcel tax instead of yes, it would have sent a powerful message to the district at that time and we might have gotten better impetus to change."

I agree.

Further....
The parcel tax "vote" is a completed scam utilized by the politicians to divide the populace by villian-izing property owners, and fleecing a minority under the guise of a "Popular Vote". Any registered voter (ANY) can vote for the tax. But only property owners below the age of 65 must pay for it. This is a perverted twist of the "taxation without representation" scam, for which we once fought a revolution. Calling it a tax determined by the popular vote is the height of political cynicism and distain for the public voice.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2017 at 11:16 pm

@Three-More-Years:

As memory serves, only school district parcel taxes have a senior exemption written into State law. All other parcel taxes for other taxing jurisdiction have no such taxing exemptions.



12 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2017 at 12:20 am

'The parcel tax "vote" is a completed scam ... villian-izing property owners, and fleecing a minority under the guise of a "Popular Vote".'

Exactly.

It's a bribe...plain and simple.

If everyone had to pay the tax, few of those taxes would pass.

If every property owner had to pay the tax (including seniors), few of those taxes would pass: seniors are a disproportional portion of the voters, so the "exemption" is designed to cater to their vote to improve the odds of the parcel tax passing.


10 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2017 at 3:06 am

There is something similar to the twisted way Palo Alto funds its schools
with this extreme regressive parcel tax in what happened in the UK under
Thatcher with the Community Poll Tax.

One of the things people either do not know or never were informed about
WRT the Reagan/Thatcher revolution of the 80's is that the Republicans
or the Conservatives on the UK side were all about making taxes much
more regressive. In the UK Brits would not stand for this and rioted, while
Americans either love abuse of hate math so much they cannot understand
what is happening to them.

Today we hear that the Republicans in the USA want to push the tax system
towards a flat tax, really meaning a "flat-rate" tax where everyone no matter how
much they make or can afford pays the same percentage rate. This is very
regressive as people who do not make piles of money are affected unequally
by such a "flat rate" tax. Taxes in the USA were conceived as progressive,
where the people who had the most and made the most paid progressively
more tax.

Well, what got Thatcher in so much hot water and ended the ridiculous
reign of the extreme Conservatives in the UK was Thatchers attempt
to go the flat tax one better ... where everyone paid the same AMOUNT of
tax. In the late 1980's Thatcher changed the law concerning the Community
Tax, so that whether you owned a tiny shack or condo or the largest manor
house in the community you paid the same, roughly $250 pounds. This
so outraged those who had to pay it that they rebelled, like intelligent,
politically involved citizens.

This is a bit analogous to our parcel taxes, and where the $30 million
CEO paid in stock shares living on a huge compound or a struggling to
make ends meet and stay in Palo Alto working class family ... we all have to
pay the same parcel tax. It doesn't matter if you have or ever had children,
or if they went to or never went to a Palo Alto school, we are all forced to
pay the same amount, unless you are over 65.

Funding schools this way is downright unAmerican, and when Maggie
Thatcher tried to put a tax like this in effect the British people, who are
apparently much smarter, more aware and less likely to tolerate abuse
from their government rioted and tore the city apart.

UK Poll Tax Riots of March 1991: Web Link

Why are Americans so docile and accepting of heaps of abuse and having
costs and debt dumped on them like beasts of burden? This BS parcel
tax should be gotten rid of or changed to be progressive based on income
or at least related to how many children a property has in school.

I'm socially minded and I don't mind paying for others' children to get an
education that will help the local economy and the country, but people
should not be asked over and over to contribute more than they can afford.
Very much like the Buffett rule, this is a local outrage and should stop ASAP.


7 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2017 at 1:10 pm

People caterwauling about taxes rarely provide folks enough information about who pays the taxes necessary to run our government. For instance, only about 50% of people in the UK actually pay income taxes, leaving “the rich” to carry the burden of running the government—

Web Link

Here in the US, that number is now 45%:
Web Link

One can only wonder just how much “the rich” can pay before the camel’s back breaks?

People are free to their own opinions, but they are not free to manufacture their own “facts”.


4 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jul 17, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Simply, it time to end parcel tax exemptions.


4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Joe ... your question:

> One can only wonder just how much “the rich” can pay before the camel’s back breaks?

just seems wrongheaded to me. "The rich" are just getting richer and richer and adding no value to the country or the economy while at the same time buying up the government and capturing ( and killing ) the regulatory process.

Whenever this question comes up someone cries out calling "the rich" the victims even as they accumulate more faster and faster. Often the argument - at least in the media seems to end there. But that seems uncalled for as long as the inequality in our society and economy is getting worse and the trends are increasing.

First, by trying to make the issue the victimizing of the rich, the issue you completely ignore the present issue of how these parcel taxes are assessed - totally regressively.

When looked at in totality the tax system in the US fairly stomps on the poor and keeps them down. This is described objectively with numbers and examples in the new book on tax reform, "A Fine Mess" by T. R. Reid. Almost every deduction except the standard deduction is useless to working class people, and in the average the cost of those deductions get dumped onto them and they can't see it understand it.

The vicious greedy disingenuousness of the Right on this issue is visually palpable in the June 6th, 1995 episode of William F. Buckley's program "Firing Line" with the debate entitled, "Resolved" The Flat Tax Is Better Than The Income Tax", here on You-Tube for free: Web Link

One interesting side not of that debate is that our governor, Jerry Brown, is out there arguing on the side of the flat tax because he said the system even way back then was so lopsided that the regressive flat tax would be an improvement.

It is a lively, entertaining and rather funny debate about a serious subject. The Republicans have master the technology of finding ways to to move people towards them with disinformation while hiding the really relevant information behind confusing jargon and complexity. This is not what our country was ever supposed to be based on, yet here we are. It should not and can not stand, but it does because the Right really doesn't care what lengths they have to go through to both hide and feed their limitless greed.


4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2017 at 3:09 pm

> People are free to their own opinions, but they are not free to manufacture their own “facts”.

Well then, I guess you should be happy people can still misinterpret their chosen facts.

When 8 people own half the world your argument vaporizes. That is a moral, political and social justice issue, not a checkbook balancing exercise Joe. FDR came up with the term economic royalists and they were at a maximum about 100 years ago causing crash after crash as they sucked up everything in this country.

OxFam International, The power of people against poverty: Web Link
Published: 16 January 2017
Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam today to mark the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2017 at 3:09 pm

I was shown this short video recently explaining taxes with beer. It is an Australian made video but gets the point across in ways that are easy to understand. Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Resident ... that silly cartoon is not and never was close to the case. When dealing with billions of dollars you really cannot equate it to a beer, but maybe that's what you have been partaking of on this scorching day, or something stronger.

I could come up with a better analogy right off the cuff. Say some plantation owner in the South owned 20% of the state. The "workers" on that plantation are now free to sell their labor in the market, but they have to eat and live somewhere. Not surprisingly, the plantation owner owns all the land and the only restaurant in town, so they workers go there to get something to eat.

But some of them are old, they cannot work.

Some of them are injured because the previous situation on the plantation was unsafe.

They'd like to leave but they don't know what is beyond the property line because they can't afford cars and there's no public transit.

Some of them have no money because there is no land they can live on without paying stiff rents that suck up all their wages.

There are no schools because the plantation owner refused to be a victim and will not pay his money to support people who are not paying taxes, though every time he raises the wages of his workers they never get ahead because he also raises prices at the same time. No schools.

No health care either because of how immoral it is to help people who do not work for their benefits. Giving the people who are sick health care, the planation owner says, would be disallowing them to be free. It would make them dependent, he says while passing out paychecks and collecting rent checks from the virtual slaves on his domain.

He pays taxes only for the police to make sure no one steals from him, because property rights are sacrosanct, and for the military because someone else might come up to take his stuff or educate his workers and ruin his sweet operation.

After all, they all pay the community tax of $100 a month, and most of that goes to maintaining the roads that the plantation owner drives on since no one else can afford at car, but that is fair because everyone pays the same amount.

Too bad no one will make that into a cute little lying cartoon for the plantation owner, but no one has education in computers or animation because the infrastructure and schools are so bad.


1 person likes this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

@CPA - Speaking just of parcel taxes for the local schools - there's no alternative available. The state doesn't allow the school district to collect sales tax, income tax, cap gains tax, property tax (beyond the current amount), charge fees, etc. All they can do to raise revenue is a parcel tax, which requires 66% approval.

So the alternatives are to change the state law (Prop 13) or do without the revenue. In Palo Alto, I'm fine with the regressive tax (at a relatively low amount) vs. nothing at all.


1 person likes this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 17, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Old Timer --

While CA state law does place strict limits on the type of taxes that municipalities and school districts may use to collect revenue, there are ways to more closely align contributions with wealth.

For example, instead of using a fixed parcel tax where everyone pays the same amount, it is legal to use a variable parcel tax where the amount is based on property size.

Although imperfect, it is reasonable to assume that wealthier people own larger properties, so this type of parcel tax would at least be less regressive.

Surely, experts in school finance and tax law could apply some creativity to construct a more fair system for funding our schools.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident11
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Resident11 is a registered user.

I think some of the discussion here is missing the point that all homeowners benefit from a good school system, as it keeps the property values high. Homeowners generally have more at stake (pro or con) in their community, and should pay more accordingly, imo. (I am one, btw.) I also think their votes should count for more, but I expect I'll be out-voted on that one :)

One of the things that we see in our neighborhood is long-time absentee homeowners renting out their homes to families with kids. They can earn a lot of money without getting the capital gains from selling. The property tax basis for the home is low, so they don't contribute much, but they are constantly hosting families who are expensive for the community. So I'm a big fan of revisiting Prop 13.


Like this comment
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm

"Surely, experts in school finance and tax law could apply some creativity to construct a more fair system for funding our schools."

Well, a straight per-parcel tax in Palo Alto passed with 77% of the vote last time. So not clear why the schools would spend time and money cooking up something more complicated - people seemed happy with the conventional approach. There might be something "more fair" out there, but it probably won't start in Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2017 at 7:22 pm

@Crescent-park ..

Wonder if you have thought through your claims?

> "The rich" are just getting richer and richer and adding
> no value to the country or the economy

Absurd! Do “the rich” own any companies that build products that people use, or hire people, who buy homes and raise families, and do “the rich” pay absolutely no taxes? (Hint, “the rich” pay about 90% of the personal income taxes.)

> “victimizing the rich”

Not certain how many people are doing that. However, there are people pointing out that “the rich” do not own enough to pay for all of the education, housing, health care, transportation, food, and basic income payment for everyone in the world. If the “wealth” of “the rich” were distributed to all of the world, it would only come to a couple thousand dollars—leaving “the rich” totally without funds. The golden goose would be dead, and the world would be wondering when the next handout would be coming. (Hint—never!)

Let’s look at your claim that parcel taxes are “regressive”. How so, given that all property is charged equally, and seniors are exempted, if they choose to be? This issue of “progressivity” seems to be at the core of your arguments. We are all left wondering why people with more resources should pay for public services, but get little back in proportion to what they pay. They don’t even get two, or more, votes (at the least).

If there is any unfairness here is that people who do not own property in Palo Alto can vote this parcel tax into existence; whereas, people who own property but do not live in Palo Alto can not vote on this tax. Unfortunately, this is not a Prop. 218 tax.

> When looked at in totality the tax system in the US fairly stomps
> on the poor and keeps them down.

With 45% of the people paying no taxes, how do you come by claims like this?

> The Republicans and misinformation

With so much information on the Internet that is Republican free, how in the world would you have us believe this nonsense?


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2017 at 7:44 pm

> Speaking just of parcel taxes for the local schools - there's no
> alternative available.
> The state doesn't allow the school district to collect sales tax, income tax,
> cap gains tax, property tax (beyond the current amount),

This is a Basic Aid funding district—which gets 46% of every tax dollar collected from Palo Alto, Stanford residential areas and business areas, and Los Altos Hills (PAUSD side). About $165M for the 16-17 budget year. The total revenue is about $231M for the 16-17 year. The PAUSD is telling us that they can not budget themselves so that they can spend, spend and spend some more on just $231M.

> charge fees, etc.

Not true. Schools can levy “impact fees” on both residential and commercial development. Schools can also raise revenues by leasing its facilities.

> All they can do to raise revenue is a parcel tax, which requires 66% approval.

This is not true, at least where bond elections are concerned. Only 55% is required for Prop.39 elections.

Sadly, most people just don’t understand how this school district is funded, much less where all the money goes that the district gets its hands on.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2017 at 7:58 pm

> only 8 people own half the world

Really? If there are only eight, can you name them?

According to this article, the 30 richest people control $1.7T of the world’s economy--
Web Link

But let’s not forget that the total world’s economy is about $75T per year.

But a much larger number is the world’s total wealth, which is estimated at/about $250T. It’s probably not true that only eight people own $125T in personal wealth.

As to arguments going “poof” ….


1 person likes this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

"Sadly, most people just don’t understand how this school district is funded"

True that - add yourself to the list!

Prop 39 bonds can only be spent on facilities and equipment, so not relevant for a parcel tax discussion, which is almost universally spent only on staff (which a bond cannot be used for). I suppose a district could spent parcel tax money on facilities but it would be a lot easier to get a bond approved (very few Prop 39 bonds fail in the Bay Area). And yes, parcel taxes always require two-third approval.

Impact fees are one-time and similarly are used for facilities. As the saying goes, you can't fund anything that eats with one-time money. I agree that school districts can rent and/or lease facilities, and do, though calling "rent" a "fee" seems a bit of a stretch. Districts cannot charge fees to students for public education (even athletic participation fees are now banned).


3 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

Palo Alto Weekly -- could you research and write an article about which parcel taxes offer exemptions for seniors, and others?


2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2017 at 11:56 am

What's the problem? Most people will be 65 someday. Wait your turn.


Next people will want to do away with senior transit fares and movie tickets?

Why is Generation X being so greedy?


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm

@Old-timer:

You're correct that Prop.39 bonds are only for bonds. However, given that the cost of school facilities here in Palo Alto, and elsewhere, is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, those dollars are a part of the funding equation. You might, or might not know, that facilities needs could be paid for by dollars from the general fund--which are also getting the dollars from the parcel taxes. This is a tricky point since the parcel taxes are supposed to be "restricted funds"--meaning that they are supposed to be used for only whatever the ballot language claims the funds are to be used for. However, these "restricted funds" free up "unrestricted funds" .. which could be used for facility management.

There is also a bit of trickery in the use of bond money used for personnel funding. The PAUSD has targeted a significant amount of the capital bonds for "maintenance"--which is an activity that should be handled from the general fund. Some of this bond money will go for legitimate needs, but the rest will go to paying people to do the "maintenance" work--work that should be paid for by general fund dollars (remember, bond dollars are more expensive than general fund dollars due to interest on the loans).

Same is true for the impact fees -- which can free up general fund dollars. All of these dollars ultimately need to be tracked by the published budgets of the school districts. Most people seem to dwell only on the operating budgets, ignoring the large, and growing capital expenditures that are necessary to house the students, and staff.

Rents vs fees .. really? You want to waste time quibbling over this? These extra revenues are at the discretion of the school district. While they generally don't generate a lot of revenue, they could generate more if the district thought it was worth the time to advertise and coordinate these activities.

The original parcel tax appeared during the meltdown of the .COM failures after 2000. All sorts of gloom and doom were predicted by the District and the supporters of this tax. At the time, everyone said it was going to be "temporary". Well, it's now almost twenty years later, and it's still here. Why? Isn't the emergency over by now?

Renters don't pay the tax but get to vote on it. Isn't it time to look at that inequity between people who pay this tax, and those who don't?

Because the PAUSD is a Basic Aid district that has a large number of tax exempt organizations within its borders, and its primary funding source is property tax revenues, the complexity of its revenue streams is far more difficult to explain, or predict, than ADA schools that receive a fixed amount of income for each student. Moreover, the PAUSD has about 1000 (+/-) students who do not live within the taxing authority of the District, so the cost of their education must be picked up by the taxpayers within the district. In other words, those families pay neither property tax to the District, or parcel taxes to the District.

All of this school funding takes a lot of time to absorb, and the PAUSD has not, over the years, been all that transparent in its tracking of revenues and expenditures. The last few years things have gotten better, but it's still a complicated bit of business to wade through all of the information available and hope to come to some conclusions about what is going on at 25 Churchill.




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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 18, 2017 at 1:47 pm

@Joe, this is getting pretty into the weeds, but here's my two cents. A planned maintenance fund is part of the authorized bond project list, so when you say it "should be handled by the general fund," I don't agree - if permitted by law and included in the project list, using bond funds is fine; there's no "trickery." Building program management staff are also included in the bond, btw, as permitted by law.

Sure, this does 'free up' general fund dollars - but that's why the voters approved the bond, so they could have improved buildings AND still be able to pay staff members, etc., through the general fund. It's not a trick - that was the whole reason for it.

My bigger concern isn't what we spend or whether we could eke out a little more revenue - that seems fine, few complain - it's what we get for it, and why the district is so badly managed. Schools in general are not tightly run ships, but for the money we pay senior managers, we should get much better management.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I'm plenty old enough to take the exemption for school funding, but I don't do so. I think education of the children of my community is my obligation as a citizen of Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Funding schools from local taxes on Real Estate is a big part of the failure of the schools and the way we build in success into rich communities and failure into the not so rich communities.

Having the parcel tax hit everyone the same regardless of size or value of their Real Estate asset is another part of how we dishonestly build in subsidies to the richest and most powerful people, and their children. Subsidies that have dropped our educational significantly standing in the world to pretty near the bottom of the developed world and end up putting the same "legacy" people in positions to design these preferential systems.

The current system we have, doesn't work, and over time has dropped the educational standing of the USA. It pays the wealthy and powerful to continue this system that advantages only their own children - while others pay for it. What a deal, but not for the vast majority of us/US.


1 person likes this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Resident11 --

I would agree that *most* homeowners benefit from a good school district but I do not support your claim that *all* homeowners benefit. Some people own very small studio or one-bedroom condominiums. Families are not likely to engage in bidding wars to buy such properties.

Sylvia --

I certainly support public education, but I feel we need to recognize that there are people -- even here in Palo Alto -- for whom paying the parcel tax is a real hardship and many of these people are unable to work due to age or disability.


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