Power to the People: California Court of Appeal Rules that Voter Tax Initiatives Are Not Subject to Super-Majority Vote

Lozano Smith Client News Brief
September 2020
Number 67

In City & County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 703, California's First District Court of Appeal held that special taxes proposed by voter initiative require only a simple majority vote to pass, notwithstanding the provisions of Proposition 13 and Proposition 218, which would otherwise require a two-thirds approval of the voting electorate.


In San Francisco's 2018 general election, 61% of voters voted in favor of Proposition C, a voter-initiated measure which proposed a special tax on local businesses to be used to fund homeless services, including housing programs, mental health services, prevention programs, and hygiene programs.

Several business organizations challenged the measure as invalid, pointing to the super-majority requirements of Proposition 13 and Proposition 218, which require a two-thirds vote to approve the imposition of special taxes.

The court affirmed that the super-majority requirements of Propositions 13 and Proposition 218 only apply to "local government," which is defined as "any county, city, and county, including a charter city or county, any special district, or any other local or regional governmental entity."

The court, in reaching its decision, held that the initiative power was a constitutionally protected right which gave citizens the power to adopt a special tax and "[a] defining characteristic of the initiative is the people's power to adopt laws by majority vote."


A petition for review was filed asking the Supreme Court to hear this matter. On September 9, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected the petition, declining to take up the matter. Thus, the Appellate Court's decision, which clarifies that the super-majority vote thresholds of Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 were intended to limit governmental power in the imposition of taxes, and not the people's power, is reliable.

If you have any questions regarding the decision in this case, or regarding public finance matters, local taxes, or voter-approved initiatives or propositions, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also subscribe to our podcast, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or download our mobile app.
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As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.