Parcel Tax in California: Findings from New Data Sources

Published: 2020 | Soomi Lee | CityScape


This article examines parcel taxes in California counties, cities, and special districts. Unique to California, the parcel tax is commonly known as a lump-sum tax applied to parcels of real property to finance local public services. Some scholars and practitioners argue that the parcel tax can be a good source of local revenue because of its simplicity. Since the 1980s, parcel tax adoption has grown, despite requiring two-thirds approval in a local referendum. In 2018 alone, California had about 100 parcel tax elections. Despite the increase in adoption, scholars and practitioners have not had a good understanding of the nature and use of the parcel tax. I fill this gap by collecting and analyzing parcel tax ballot measures from 1995 through 2018. Since 2016, the state has mandated that local governments submit parcel tax financial reports, which I also use. I find that parcel tax structure is far more fragmented across local governments than previously understood.