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June 18, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, June 18, 2004

School district hopes to quash lawsuit School district hopes to quash lawsuit (June 18, 2004)

Officials ask judge to throw out challenge to parcel tax election

By Julie O'Shea

The Mountain View-Whisman School District has filed a formal objection to a lawsuit challenging the legality of its March parcel tax election. School officials said they have done nothing wrong and are asking that the case be thrown out.

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge is set to rule on the matter June 29.

Mountain View-Whisman's objection states that Aaron Katz, a Saratoga resident and independent attorney, has no basis for his lawsuit because he is not a city resident and owns no property within the school district boundaries.

Katz, however, says he has every right to contest the district's parcel tax election because he owns 10 Mountain View condos through a partnership in which he is both a general and limited partner. He said he filed the lawsuit on behalf of his partnership and maintains that because he owns real estate in town, he should have a right to vote on measures impacting his property taxes.

Katz has received little support in his legal fight for a new tax election. Many, including the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the state's biggest anti-tax group, say that parcel tax laws are well established.

"In general, you are only allowed to vote where you live," Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis association, has said.

Measure J, a $1.6-million parcel tax, was approved at the polls with 69 percent of the vote. The tax is based on a property's total square footage. It will cost most homeowners $75 and is capped at $600. Katz's parcel tax bill will be $750 a year, he said, adding that had only property owners been allowed to vote in the March election, he suspects Measure J would have failed by thousands of votes.

Katz said relations have gotten nasty between him and the school district, claiming Mountain View-Whisman has "officially threatened" to seek sanctions against him if he doesn't dismiss his lawsuit by June 28, one day before the court hearing.

However, Superintendent Jim Negri said: "We are taking all legal avenues open to us." This includes seeking attorney fees for cases filed without merit, he added.

"I have an obligation to our taxpayers in our community to recoup the cost of the expenses we are spending on this case," Negri said.

The school district will likely set aside $50,000 from Measure J funds to pay for legal fees incurred in Katz's lawsuit, Negri said, noting that if there was no lawsuit, this money could have covered the cost of after-school sports and science kits. The school board is scheduled to approve the 2004-2005 budget June 24.

Katz said he has no intention of dropping the case. He calls Mountain View-Whisman's parcel tax election "unconstitutional" and is demanding it be rerun. The Santa Clara County elections office is also a named defendant in the Katz lawsuit.

"We have followed the law. The election was certified," Negri said. "If this thing goes forward, it could drag on for years." Katz said he is willing to take this case all the way to the state Supreme Court. Negri admitted the district doesn't have the funds to cover the cost of a constitutional appeal.

Katz said he believes the school district's objections will be overruled later this month.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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