Public Revenues & Rate-Making


California’s leading expert on local government revenues

Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC is California’s leading expert on our complex laws governing local government revenues, including Propositions 13, 62, 218 and 26. Our attorneys argued six government revenue cases to the California Supreme Court:

  • Richmond v. Shasta CSD (2004) (water connection charges not subject to Prop. 218)
  • Bonander v. Town of Tiburon (2009) (statute of limitation for challenge to 1911 Act assessment)
  • Greene v. Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation District (2010) (property-owner elections on fees not subject to election secrecy that applies to registered-voter elections)
  • Ardon v. City of Los Angeles (2011) (Government Claims Act allows class action claims for tax and fee refunds in cities without contrary local claiming ordinances)
  • Alhambra & 46 Other Cities v. County of Los Angeles (2012) (calculation of property tax administrative fees with respect to property taxes paid to cities in lieu of sales taxes and VLF under Triple Flip and VLF Swap)
  • McWilliams v. City of Long Beach (2013) (Government Claims Act preempts local claiming ordinances as to tax and fee refund claims; class actions permitted)

Public finance laws

We have been leaders in speaking, writing, advising and litigating matters under California’s initiative public .finance laws since 1995. Our experience includes:

Proposition 26

  • Chair, League of California Cities Proposition 26 Task Force
  • Contributor, League of California Cities Proposition 26 Implementation Guide
  • Counsel for Defendant City of Redding in Citizens for Fair REU Rates v. City of Redding, among the first-filed Prop. 26 cases. The plaintiffs appeal from our trial court victory is now pending in the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. The case challenges a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) by Redding Electric Utility to the City’s general fund and the trial court was persuaded by our argument that Prop. 26 is not retroactively applicable to local government fees of this sort.
  • Counsel for local government amici in Schmeer v. County of Los Angeles (2013) which found the 10-cent fee Los Angeles County required retailers to charge for paper bags in its plastic-bag-ban ordinance not to violate Proposition 26 because the revenue from the fee does not flow to government
  • Counsel for the City of San Buenaventura in a challenge to groundwater augmentation charges under Propositions 26 and 218.  The defendant agency’s appeal is now pending in the Ventura Court of Appeal.
  • In addition, we are advising local governments around the state on how to comply with this measure.

Proposition 218

  • Chair, League of California Cities Proposition 218 Task Force
  • Editor and Contributor, League of California Cities Proposition 218 Implementation Guide (1996, 1997, 1997, and 2000 editions)
  • Contributor, California Municipal Law Handbook discussion of Proposition 218
  • Counsel for local government associations as amici in Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency v. Verjil (2006) 39 Cal. 4th 205 (Prop. 218 applies to metered water rates; initiative to reduce domestic water rates prohibited to extent it would require voter approval of subsequent rate increases)support of Los Angeles County in the case.
  • Counsel for five local government associations as amici in Concerned Citizens for Responsible Government v. West Point Fire Protection District (application of Prop. 218’s requirements regarding special benefit and proportionality to fire suppression benefit assessment) (Supreme Court dismissed appeal as moot)
  • Counsel for successful local government in Greene v. Marin County Flood Control &  Water Conservation District (2010) 49 Cal.4th 277  (property owner ballots on fees subject to Prop. 218 not subject to ballot secrecy requirement)
  • Counsel for successful local government in Richmond v. Shasta Community Services Dist. (2004) 32 Cal. 4th 409  (increased capacity charge and fee for fire suppression imposed on applicants for new service connections was not an “assessment” subject to Proposition 218)
  • Counsel for amici in Mission Springs Water District v. Verjil (2013) (allowing pre-election judicial review of initiative to repeal water rate hikes because District could show the measure would set rates unlawfully low)
  • Counsel for numerous cities, counties and special districts in Court of Appeal matters arising under Proposition 218.
  • We provide Proposition 218 advice to local governments of all kinds on advisory matters and in litigation.
  • We are frequent speakers, writers, and commenters in the press on issues arising under Proposition 218.

Proposition 62

  • Counsel for local government associations as amici in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Ass’n v. City of La Habra (2001) (continued imposition and collection of a utility user’s tax without voter approval was an ongoing or continuous violation of Proposition 62, with statute of limitations beginning anew with each collection)
  • We provide advice to local governments of all kinds in complying with Proposition 62.
  • We are frequent speakers, writers, and commenters in the press on issues arising under Proposition 62.

Proposition 13

Although Proposition 13 was approved in 1978, well before our practice leaders were active lawyers, we are active in current developments under the measure and similar property tax and post-redevelopment disputes, as follows:

  • Counsel for 47 Cities in City of Alhambra, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, et al. (2012), (calculation of property tax administration fees on taxes received in lieu of Vehicle License Fees and sales taxes under the VLF Swap and Triple Flip)
  • Counsel for the League of California Cities as amicus in City of Scotts Valley v. County of Santa Cruz (2011) (calculation of no- and low-property tax city subvention) (counsel for amici)
  • Counsel for local government amici in Arcadia Redevelopment Agency v. Ikemoto (1991) (agency challenge to application of property tax administration fees to tax increment)
  • Counsel for local government amici in Neilson v. City of California City (2005) (flat-rate parcel tax not an unconstitutional general tax, but rather a special tax dedicated to specific purposes; equal protection does not entitle absentee landowners to vote)
  • Counsel for respondent local government in Griffith, Pendry, et al. v. Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (2013) (appeals from trial court rejection of Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 challenge to groundwater augmentation charges)
  • We provide advice to local governments of all kinds in complying with Proposition 13.
  • We are frequent speakers, writers, and commenters in the press on issues arising under Proposition 13.

In short, Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC and its lawyers have unmatched experience and expertise in the complex laws governing municipal revenues under California’s constitution and related laws. Whether you seek new revenues, advice about maintaining those you have or representation in litigation over government revenues, we have the skill to provide the most sophisticated representation possible.