Sad Moo’s – For Schools

April 8, 2008

You might have heard of the reduction in property tax assessment for Woodside resident and Oracle CEO’s Larry Ellison. There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle quoting our own Town Manager, Susan George, about it.

Here’s the scoop:

It is well known that Ellison’s large Japanese-styled estate cost more than $200 million to build. Old-time COWs remember the contentious battles he had with the Town over its development. The main house and other structures that he fought to build, with its five acre lake and transplanted trees, has declined more than 60% in value and is now worth less than $65 million according to Mr. Ellison’s representatives. The San Mateo County Assessor agreed that the property was overvalued for tax purposes by more than $100 million. We are sure that others will seek similar relief.

The upshot is that more than $3 million has been shaved off the property tax bill – and sadly, more than $1.4 million of that would have gone to schools. In Woodside, the $130,000 annual property tax bill will drop by $78,000, spurring comment by Susan George. The Chronicle quotes her as saying that the property owner followed the law in having his tax bill reduced and that it shouldn’t make any difference how much money he has if the process was fair. But she did finish with, “We’ll miss the money; we always have good things we can do with it.”

We have to agree with Susan George here – while the amount of this reassessment is large, and generates large headlines and raised eyebrows, fundamentally it is no different from any homeowner seeking to reduce his or her property tax lawfully. It’s unfortunate that our schools, which have been battered by the Sacramento budget crisis already, with the promise of thousands of teachers getting pink slips statewide, but picking out one homeowner – no matter how large the estate – doesn’t get to the fundamental funding problem for our schools. Funding quality education for the next generation of students is critical.

Meanwhile, until serious systemic changes happen in the funding model for our schools and communities, one thing our local leaders in Woodside can and should do is work on keeping property values high in our community. As we have pointed out in numerous articles, the difficult and capricious planning process that we have in Woodside can tend to depress property values. People do not want to become residents of a community that seems to act without rhyme or reason in making decisions about what residents can do with their property. Woodside leaders can and must work on streamlining the approval process and assuring that it is consistent and fair..

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