Part One: Why is Proposition 13 so Attractive to so Many Californians?

In examining and analyzing tax relief from Proposition 13 property tax transfer, as well as the financial and political drama surrounding the initiative – with all the on-going conflict between detractors and supporters; between critics and advocates – it is important to note that prior to Proposition 13 in California, from one end of the state to the other, property taxes were pretty much out of control, and tended to increase arbitrarily, whenever it was deemed appropriate to do so, for the benefit of one local city or town government or another.

Anytime local townships and city governments needed extra money to fund this or that, they felt free to increase property taxes, and take large amounts out of “redevelopment agencies”, or RDA – particularly when it involved commercial land development, questionable funding for certain school programs, and possibly tax rebates for certain business verticals aligned politically with local government. Frequently spearheaded by special interests.

Specifically, property tax revenues were, and still are, distributed to K-12 schools and community colleges; various counties, cities & “special districts”, generally with redevelopment agencies at the bottom of the list.

The irony was that redevelopment agencies that were the most critical for local residents received the least amount of money from property tax revenues… And this trend still continues, to this day. We’re talking about redevelopment agencies that purchase property for local government; that raze and build non-residential structures; that provide municipal infrastructure like bridges, city or town streets, rural roads, and lighting, for public safety; that develop affordable housing (at the very bottom of their list) as well as renovating local commercial areas.

Before Proposition 13 property tax transfer tax relief was in effect it was particularly obvious how paltry funding was from property taxes that were supposedly going, in equal parts, to support local infrastructure needs – generally to help middle and lower middle income residents with public safety, health and welfare.

Finally, years later, the excellent organization provides in a recent study – four recommendations to local California law-makers that should help resolve the controversy surrounding redevelopment agencies:

a) The legislature should formally clarify the goals of re-development.
b) The definition of blight should be aligned with the goals of redevelopment and should be made more precise.
c) Some form of oversight authority should be established to monitor RDA behavior.
d) If the legislature intends redevelopment to be self-financing rather than heavily subsidized, the pass-through rate should be increased significantly.

At any rate, these issues obviously continued to breed resentment prior to 1978, from residential property and small business owners… and eventually that collective resentment morphed into a rush of significant public support for a solution – and that solution turned out to be Proposition 13, promoted and driven forward mainly by Howard Jarvis’ Taxpayers Association.