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Ag Alert Update: Voters reject split-roll property tax measure

Issue Date: November 11, 2020
By Kevin Hecteman

A "split-roll" property tax initiative that farmers and ranchers said would be damaging to their livelihood has been defeated. Proposition 15 drew early and vigorous opposition from the California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations.

As of Nov. 11, Proposition 15 trailed 51.8% to 48.2%, a difference of 562,488 votes, according to the California Secretary of State's office. The Associated Press projected the measure's defeat late Nov. 10, judging that the remaining ballots were unlikely to alter the outcome. Nearly 1.5 million ballots, most of them mailed in, remained to be counted as of Nov. 10, according to the secretary of state.

"Farmers can breathe a little easier today, knowing their hard work made the difference to turn back the largest property tax increase in California history, which would have created havoc for family farmers and ranchers across our state," CFBF President Jamie Johansson said during a virtual news conference conducted by the measure's opponents.

Proposition 15 would have modified California's landmark 1978 property-tax measure, Proposition 13, by reassessing commercial and industrial property at current market value every three years. Residential property would continue to be reassessed only when sold or when improvements are made.

Although Proposition 15 included an exemption for agricultural land, any fixtures or improvements on that land—such as barns, fruit and nut trees, milking parlors, irrigation systems, processing plants and the like—would have been subject to higher taxes.

The measure had strong support in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County and several coastal counties, but was losing in most of the rest of the state. In some agricultural counties, such as Tulare and Kern, voters rejected Proposition 15 by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

"For months, we've said Prop 15 would hurt farmers, ranchers and ultimately all families, through higher food prices," Johansson said. "What's clear from these results is that more than 8 million California voters recognized this reality and agreed with our efforts to stop this ill-advised initiative."

CFBF joined with county Farm Bureaus, Western Growers, the Agricultural Council of California and other organizations in a coalition, Family Farmers Against Prop 15, to campaign against the measure. Johansson thanked the more than 1,000 family farmers who contributed $250 or less to the campaign and who recognized how damaging the measure would have been to rural communities.

"Many California voters were already struggling with the affordability crisis facing our state before COVID-19, and even more are struggling now," he said. "The defeat of Prop 15 can be seen as a rejection of this specific, harmful measure, but also as a broader call to our elected officials to stop enacting costly policies that hurt farmers, consumers and businesses."

CFBF First Vice President Shannon Douglass, who raises cattle and grows row crops in Glenn County, said she's thankful for and proud of the work Farm Bureau and its members did in campaigning against Proposition 15.

"In a close race like this, it really came down to the individual stories our members stepped up to share on social media, to the support they put into the campaign and to every sign they put up along the freeway," Douglass said. "Our impact mattered and made a difference."

Mike Zimmerman, CFBF political affairs director, said the CFBF Board of Directors discussed the potential negative effects of a split-roll tax system in January "and decided early on to get out in front of it and oppose the measure before it even qualified for the ballot."

Robert Spiegel, a CFBF policy advocate, said farmers and ranchers provided crucial assistance to the No on 15 campaign by sharing their stories and the consequences the measure would have for their operations.

"This was a grassroots effort from the people who would truly have been harmed should this initiative pass," Spiegel said. "It was heartwarming to see how many people and how many members of ours were truly motivated to do everything they could to make sure this was defeated."

One of those farmers was Jennifer Beretta, a dairy farmer in Sonoma County and chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee, who appeared in No on 15 advertisements.

"My case was that food costs were going to go up," Beretta said. "I made the example for us here at home. We ship to a local creamery. They are a big commercial building because of where they need to process. If they're taxed more, and then we're taxed more, food costs are going to go up."

Beretta also said she's building a barn for automatic scrapers and a separator to use compost in bedding, and won a grant through the California Department of Food and Agriculture Alternative Manure Management Program.

"I felt like we were almost getting penalized if this was to go through," she said, "because here we're doing improvements on our farm, and now we're going to be taxed heavily on those new improvements."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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