Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Special benefit is the issue with landscape maintenance districts (LMD). Your column on July 25 ignored the real issue - one I have repeatedly challenged. Your second to the last paragraph says, “There are other issues such as special benefit and such. But it is clear that the vote forming the LMD and the fees per se are not in violation of Proposition 218.” I agree that the developers’ dominating vote still satisfies the letter of the CA Constitution. I don’t however think it satisfies the intent of Prop 218 as relayed by the CA Supreme Court overturning the LMD in Silicon Valley Taxpayers’ Association, Inc. v. Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (and also quoted in Golden Hill v. City of San Diego).
The California Supremes wrote, “In passing Proposition 218 and enacting article XIII D, the voters clearly sought to limit local government’s ability to exact revenue under the rubric of special assessments.” Can anyone claim that limiting the exaction of revenue is the intent of the Council’s actions? With Union Ranch East being the latest LMD, they have thrown in more and more. Accordingly, the total actual costs we have to bear for this one-half year of maintenance (because neither our park, nor the Tidewater Bike Path segment are complete yet), are already nearly double the 2012-13 actual costs of any other LMD in Manteca for a full year! Clearly, they have violated the spirit of Proposition 218. The voting you discussed is only about the process of imposing an LMD and if you ignore the intent of the folks at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that championed it, yes, you can say, “that the vote forming the LMD and the fees per se are not in violation of Proposition 218”.
The real issue isn’t the process (developer voting), but rather the content of the LMD and that is all about “special benefit” that you brushed off as, “other issues”. To be clear, “special benefit” isn’t concerned with whether a fee was disclosed by the developers, nor whether the vote was legal (let alone just), nor whether we want beautiful neighborhoods, nor whether someone is willing to pay a certain amount to have things maintained, and not even whether the general fund has enough money for park maintenance. Rather, the Constitutional issue of “special benefit” is about what the law allows them to assess us for and how they justify that. These are our rights to limit what government can impose on us and as such we must fight to uphold them. Anyone can read the law for themselves at: www.leginfo.ca.gov/.const/.article_13D. I think you will see that the language is not so complicated that we have to leave it to lawyers to interpret, nor should we.
Only special benefits are assessable – by law. All three measures the engineer’s report used to justify our special benefit came out to 80% each. You’d have to set aside common sense to not acknowledge that those numbers are cooked as that would never happen in the real world. We don’t think we get 80% of the benefit of any of it as special to us, but does anyone really believe we in URE get 80% of the benefit of maintaining the Tidewater Bike Path segment?
Is that proportion really, “a particular and distinct benefit” for us as opposed to being a predominantly general benefit for all of Manteca?
Clearly not and this Council has thus violated the letter of the law of Proposition 218 and Article XIIID in not limiting the assessment to the proportion we get “special benefit” from. Councilwoman Moorhead and Councilman Harris have acknowledged from the start that this LMD was bad. I believe the rest of the Council, unlike the previous Council your article covered, has put financial concerns above our constitutional rights and that is a very slippery slope we should all fight back against.
July 26, 2012