OC Board of Supervisors Votes on Resolution Against Prop. 15

September 17, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

IRVINE, Calif.—The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3–2 against a resolution opposing Proposition 15.

Prop. 15 would require most commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value. Currently, they’re taxed based on their purchase price (plus annual increases equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower).

Opponents of Prop. 15 say the tax increase would hurt many small businesses. Proponents say the additional tax revenue would increase funding for public schools and other services. Voters statewide will decide, with Prop. 15 on the November ballot.

During the Sept. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting, all board members said they oppose Prop. 15.

But Supervisors Doug Chaffee, Lisa Bartlett, and Andrew Do felt it was inappropriate to pass a resolution against it at the county level and voted against the resolution. Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner had presented the resolution, and they voted in favor.

“Something that we want to emphasize is that it’s directly affecting the county,” Steel said. She represented Southern California on the Board of Equalization, the state’s tax administration agency, before becoming a supervisor.

She said she has seen through her years of experience in the tax agency that this issue of property tax rates has long been discussed, and “this is going to be the worst one to increase [taxes] constantly … [for] mom and pop stores, warehouses, retailers, hotels, restaurants.”

Chaffee said: “I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the board itself to politicize and tell people how to vote.

“This item has not had a presentation from the various sides of the issue.”

Bartlett said: “On a personal level, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Board of Supervisors to really get involved on a lot of these propositions. It has nothing to do with the governance of our county government per se.”

Wagner said: “There is nothing political with this board informing the public of what is coming at them on the ballot box.

“Certainly the public can make their own decisions; the public will be making their own decisions. But it is right and appropriate for us to say this is a direct attack on Proposition 13.”

Prop. 13 was the measure that limited property taxes; Prop. 15 seeks to dismantle it.

“This is a massive tax increase at a time when the folks out in our communities can least afford it as we’re struggling with COVID-19,” he said.

Do said “it sounds like all five of us agree in principle,” but he questioned way the issue was brought to the board.

“Because if this one-off methodology is used, we will be forced as a board to have to kind of do this reading publicly and without adequate staff input,” he said.

Do suggested having the county staff draft something more formally before the issue of Prop. 15 is brought back up to the board.

“At that point, we will have adequate opportunities to really examine this, because I do agree with the description by Supervisor Wagner. I think the description for this proposition is deceptive and … it is a direct attack on Proposition 13 disguised as a way to protect schools,” he said.

California generally has high taxes compared to the rest of the country, but California’s average effective property tax rate of 0.77 percent is below the national average of 1.08 percent, according to financial technology company SmartAsset.

If Prop. 15 passes, the transition from taxing on the purchase price to taxing on the market value would begin fiscal year 2022–2023.