Prop. C backers buzz the John's Grill Election Day luncheon in 2018. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez

In the same week the International Municipal Lawyers Association named a prestigious award after deceased Deputy City Attorney Buck Delventhal, a Court of Appeals ruling affirmed the legal theory the City Hall maven co-developed underpinning Proposition C.

That 2018 voter-generated initiative established a business tax aimed at raising some $300 million a year for homeless and housing causes.

In a major development for a cash-starved city, today’s ruling puts San Francisco one step closer to accessing hundreds of millions of dollars it has collected and held in abeyance.

Proposition C, which passed with 61 percent of the vote in November 2018, established a tax on companies with gross receipts exceeding $50 million. Sixty-one percent is a heavy majority, but it ain’t two-thirds. With notable exceptions, tax measures in California require two-thirds approval. Delventhal and Scott Reiber in the City Attorney’s office felt that, in part, since Proposition C was a voter-generated initiative, it could legally pass with a bare majority.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Business Properties Association and the California Business Roundtable did not.

Litigation ensued. Last year, a Superior Court judge sided with the city. Today that opinion was validated by a three-judge panel with the First District Court of Appeal.

See also: Prop. C — In liberal San Francisco, government leaders fight a measure to fund homeless services by assailing voters’ confidence in the very concept of government

“Following two California Supreme Court cases interpreting other language from Proposition 13 and Proposition 218, we construe the supermajority vote requirements that these propositions added to the state constitution as coexisting with, not displacing, the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote,” reads today’s ruling.

“Because a majority of San Francisco voters who cast ballots in November 2018 favored Proposition C, the initiative measure was validly enacted.”

Buck Delventhal
Buck Delventhal, left, and his ‘family’ at City Hall. The legal theory he co-authored was affirmed today by the Court of Appeal, providing the 49-year deputy city attorney with a posthumous validation.

The plaintiffs may appeal the case to the California Supreme Court within 40 days — but, as the Court of Appeal referenced two state Supreme Court precedents and the city’s legal strategy is derived from another, it would appear San Francisco is in a commanding legal position.

San Francisco may, in the not-too-distant future, tax high-grossing companies and use the money for homeless and housing causes because of a seemingly arcane matter regarding the California Cannabis Coalition’s ultimately failed battle with a San Bernardino County municipality about marijuana dispensaries.

That 2017 case — California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland — involves questions over whether a $75,000 fee placed on a San Bernardino dispensary constitutes a tax and, if so, whether a tax measure can be placed on the ballot during a special election rather than a general election … and just how we should interpret Article XIII C of the state Constitution.

In short, it’s complicated.

But, for San Francisco’s purposes, the dissenting opinion in this case was the most germane: “From here on out,” wrote a pair of disgruntled justices, “special taxes can be enacted by a simple majority of the electorate, as long as proponents can muster the necessary quantum of support to require consideration of the measure.”

Today, the Court of Appeal agreed, declining to limit the people of California, via signature-gathered voter initiatives, from exercising political power.

See also: Buck Delventhal dies, and San Francisco loses its most capable guide

Mission Local is informed that the hundreds of millions of dollars in Proposition C money the city has collected and held awaiting legal clearance will be released at the discretion of the city controller. It is highly unlikely that controller Ben Rosenfield would authorize such a move prior to the ultimate conclusion of this case.

“This issue has been before the court in San Francisco in three recent cases. In all three the court has upheld the will of the voters and said a simple majority is required,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “And now the Court of Appeal has agreed. San Francisco voters have the right to direct democracy and self-government. We will continue to defend that right for however long is necessary.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. This is wonderful news. In spite of massive spending by the opposition, a grassroots effort to address homelessness passed.

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    1. Prediction: nothing changes. The $ continues to flow into the non-profits administrators with zero accountability

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      1. This is the problem. Prop C could have offered up cash grants to those homeless people who are not paralyzed by substance and psych issues to get them off of the streets quickly.

        This would have freed up the existing homeless and housing dollars to deal with the more challenging cases. That is the opposite of the nonprofit article of faith that holds that the needs of “the most vulnerable: should come first.

        They also are all-in on “care not cash,” having inhabited an ecosystem of nonprofits that arose after 2002.

        And there are no plans on how to spend those dollars, no substance plan, no psych plan, no housing plan. Just money in a pot that goes to those who pay to play as determined by London Breed.

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  2. And just like that, the City’s $13 billion budget became $13.4 billion, and all our problems were solved.

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