Laws, Regulations & Annotations
Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2011
Revenue and Taxation Code
Part 3. Equalization
Chapter 1. Equalization by County Board of Equalization
Article 1. Generally
1610.8. Individual assessments. After giving notice as prescribed by its rules, the county board shall equalize the assessment of property on the local roll by determining the full value of an individual property, by assessing any taxable property that has escaped assessment, correcting the amount, number, quantity, or description of property on the local roll, canceling improper assessments, and by reducing or increasing an individual assessment, as provided in this section. The full value of an individual property shall be determined without limitation by reason of the applicant's opinion of value stated in the application for reduction in assessment pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 1603.
The applicant for a reduction in an assessment on the local roll shall establish the full value of the property by independent evidence. The records of the assessor may be used as part of such evidence.
The county board shall make a determination of the full value of each parcel for which an application for equalization is made.
History.—Stats. 1966, p. 672 (First Extra Session), in effect October 6, 1966, first operative for the 1967–68 assessment year, deleted former language and added all of present language. Stats. 1967, p. 1459, in effect June 7, 1967, eliminated three sentences in first paragraph relating to findings, conclusions, and transcripts; substituted in the second paragraph a conclusive presumption that ratio is within certain limits for a rule which stated that if ratio was without such limits it was prima facie evidence of inequitable assessment; and substituted the present third paragraph for portions of the previous provision on the same subject. Stats. 1974, Ch. 311, p. 611, in effect January 1, 1975, renumbered the section which was formerly numbered 1605; substituted "full value" for "full cash value", and substituted "property" for "assessment" after "individual" in the first sentence of the first paragraph; substituted "equalization" for "the equalization proceedings", and substituted "full value" for "full cash value" in the first sentence of the second paragraph; and substituted "full value" for "full cash value" in the first sentence of the third paragraph, in the first and second sentences of the fourth paragraph, and in subdivisions (a), (b), and (c) thereof. Stats. 1977, Ch. 877, p. 2643, in effect January 1, 1978, added the second sentence to the first paragraph. Stats. 1982, Ch. 327, in effect June 30, 1982, deleted the second paragraph and the second sentence of the fourth paragraph which provided for the use of assessment ratios. Stats. 2003, Ch. 604 (SB 1059), in effect January 1, 2004, added ", by assessing any taxable property that has escaped assessment, correcting the amount, number, quantity, or description of property on the local roll, canceling improper assessments," after "an individual property" in the first sentence of the first paragraph.
(A) EXTENT OF JURISDICTION
In general.—The power of the board to consider the matter of raising or lowering assessments is purely statutory and the proceedings are in invitum. Unless the board acts in the prescribed manner, its actions are void. Birch v. Board of Supervisors, 191 Cal. 235.
Being an inferior tribunal or body created by statute, it has only such jurisdiction and powers as are given to it by statute. Oakland v. Southern Pacific Co., 131 Cal. 226. A board is a quasi-judicial body that has authority to pass upon questions of its own jurisdiction in the first instance. Where an administrative agency erroneously decides it lacks jurisdiction, the proper remedy is generally for a court to remand for the administrative agency to act. Heavenly Valley v. El Dorado County Board of Equalization, 84 Cal.App.4th 1323.
The function of the board is to see that all properties in the county are assessed at a constant level of opinion as to market value and have their proper relationship to each other. Its decision constitutes an independent and conclusive judgment, abrogating and taking the place of the judgment of the assessor. Eastern-Columbia, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 61 Cal.App.2d 734; McClelland v. Board of Supervisors, 30 Cal.2d 124.
Only majority may conduct hearings.—The board has no authority to delegate its powers to individual members. Consequently, a hearing before less than a majority of the board is illegal. Bandini Estate Co. v. Los Angeles County, 28 Cal.App.2d 224.
May act on own initiative.—It has jurisdiction to raise any individual assessment without having before it any complaint or affidavit that such assessment is too low and asking that it be raised. Allison Ranch Mining Co. v. Nevada County, 104 Cal. 161; contra, People v. Goldtree, 44 Cal. 323, construing the Revenue Act of 1861.
Implied powers.—It has implied power to enter into contracts for such items as maps and surveys to be used in the work of equalization (Maurer v. Weatherby, 1 Cal.App. 243; Haley & Co. v. McVay, 70 Cal.App. 438), and to inquire fully into transactions for the purpose of preventing tax evasion. Whiting Finance Co. v. Hopkins, 199 Cal. 428.
Bankruptcy proceedings.—A county board's determination of assessments pursuant to the statutory equalization provisions leaves a bankruptcy court without jurisdiction to redetermine assessed valuations for county tax purposes. Quinn v. Aero Services, Inc., 172 F.2d 157.
Bankruptcy Act provisions that no order shall be made for payment of tax assessed against any property of the bankrupt in excess of the value of the bankrupt's estate therein does not permit reduction of the tax merely because the assessment was in excess of the value of the bankrupt's interest in the property, the resulting tax not exceeding such value. Goggin v. Byram, 172 F.2d 868.
Failure to use administrative remedy.—An appeal by the assessee to the county board of equalization for relief is a prerequisite to the recovery of taxes paid on improvements on the basis of a systematic misclassification of similar property of others as personal property. Security-First National Bank v. Los Angeles County, 35 Cal.2d 319; Bank of America v. Mundo, 37 Cal.2d 1. An appeal by the assessee to the assessment appeals board for relief is a prerequisite to the recovery of unsecured property taxes paid on personal property on the basis of misclassification of the property as unsecured. C.H.B. Foods, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 195 Cal.App.3d 821.
When an assessment is based on property of a general character and it is protested because of an error in a specific item or group, application to the local board of equalization is a prerequisite to recovery in a court action. El Tejon Cattle Co. v. San Diego County, 252 Cal.App.2d 449.
Whether reassessments are penal assessments imposed pursuant to Section 503 or escape assessments imposed pursuant to Section 531.1 a question of valuation exists and an appeal by the assessee to the county board of equalization is a prerequisite to the recovery of the taxes paid as a result of such reassessment. Stenocord v. City and County of San Francisco, 2 Cal.3d 984. (Section 531.1 was repealed in 1967 and replaced by section 531.3.)
An appeal by the assessee to the county board of equalization for relief is a prerequisite to the recovery of taxes paid on business personal property on the basis of an allegedly erroneous assessment. Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 32, appeal dismissed 422 U.S. 1001.
A corporation's failure to claim the 1 percent rate of tax entitlement for documented commercial fishing vessels authorized by Section 227 by application for reduction in assessment pursuant to Section 1605 barred consideration of the claimed entitlement at trial. And an application for reduction filed after a notice of supplementary tax did not relate back to and include the original bill, since the supplementary bill did not constitute a reassessment of the property and since it did not claim the 1 percent entitlement but sought a reduction solely on the basis of valuation. San Diego County v. Lafayette Steel Co., 164 Cal.App.3d 690.
Administrative remedy unnecessary.—Where foreign imported liquor is tax exempt under the import-export clause of the United States Constitution and has not been mingled with the taxable property of the taxpayer there is no question of valuation which must be presented to the county board of equalization for adjudication under this article. The assessment is a nullity and resort to the county board is not necessary before seeking judicial review. Parrott & Co. v. City and County of San Francisco, 131 Cal.App.2d 332. While the exhaustion of administrative remedies before the local assessment appeals board is normally a prerequisite to judicial review, an exception is made when the assessment is a nullity as a matter of law and no factual questions exist regarding the valuation of the property. Focus Cable of Oakland, Inc. v. Alameda County, 173 Cal.App.3d 519.
Third-party applications.—There is no law authorizing the filing of a third-party application with an Assessment Appeals Board to increase the assessment of another person's property. Granting such a hearing is entirely within the discretion of the board as a part of its power to equalize on its own motion assessments of property within the county. Stevens v. Fox Realty Corp., 23 Cal.App.3d 199.
Form.—The notice must be of the intended action of the board. A notice stating that the board had raised an assessment and would meet at a subsequent date to adjust the same if cause were shown is defective and renders the board's action invalid. Huntley v. Board of Trustees, 165 Cal. 298.
Actual notice sufficient.—If a party has actual notice of the board's intended action in time to have a full and fair hearing, such notice is sufficient. Thus a notice directed to an individual who is the president of the corporate property owner is sufficient. Allison R. M. Co. v. Nevada County, 104 Cal. 161.
Defects waived by appearance.—Imperfections or ambiguities in a notice or a failure to give it by the proper time are waived by the owner's appearance. Farmers' etc. Bank v. Board of Equalization, 97 Cal. 318; Savings & Loan Society v. City and County of San Francisco, 146 Cal. 673. After a hearing on a petition for a reduction, however, an order increasing an assessment without notice of intention to do so is invalid. Birch v. Board of Supervisors, 191 Cal. 235.
May act only on evidence.—The board may not raise an assessment without evidence (City of Oakland v. Southern Pacific Co., 131 Cal. 226), nor may its action in denying an application for a reduction be based upon evidence taken subsequent to the hearing and out of the presence of the property owner. Bandini Estate Co. v. Los Angeles County, 28 Cal.App.2d 224.
Inapplicable evidence.—Exhibits relating to the assessment of other refineries had no value in determining whether the method used to evaluate petitioner's refinery, developed to produce different kinds and grades of crude oil and ultimate product, was a reasonable one. Texaco, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 136 Cal.App.3d 60. An assessment appeals board did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit into evidence a taxpayer's report pertaining to depreciation rates of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. There was no evidence that the depreciation factors used by the assessor were incorrect, and the State Board of Equalization had earlier evaluated the report and concluded that it was incomplete and contained unverified data and flawed logic, resulting in invalid conclusions. Fujitsu Microelectronics, Inc. v. Assessment Appeals Board, 55 Cal.App.4th 1120.
Rules of evidence inapplicable.—The board is not bound by the ordinary rules of evidence, but may admit and act upon any evidence which has a direct bearing on the question before it. Rancho Santa Margarita v. San Diego County, 135 Cal.App.134; A. F. Gilmore Co. v. Los Angeles County, 186 Cal.App.2d 471. The function of the board is to determine the value of property for assessments by making all assessments as equal and fair as practicable and to apply the same ratio to market value uniformly within a county. The board is not bound by technical rules of evidence. Norby Lumber Company, Inc. v. Madera County, 202 Cal.App.3d 1352.
Reasonable method.—Assessment of a refinery using a replacement cost method which recognized, although not separately, both depreciation due to normal wear and tear and depreciation due to obsolescence was proper, as the law requires only that an assessor use a reasonable method. Texaco, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 136 Cal.App.3d 60. The method of valuation used is within the board's sole discretion. Kaiser Center, Inc. v. Alameda County, 189 Cal.App.3d 978. As assessor is not required to conduct surveys before deciding upon a depreciation method. The only requirement for such a method is that it be reasonable. May Department Stores Co. v. Los Angeles County, 196 Cal.App.3d 755.
Burden of proof.—In a proceeding before the board on an application for a reduction, the burden of proof is upon the petitioner. Wild Goose Country Club v. Butte County, 60 Cal.App. 339; Leach Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 228 Cal.App.2d 634; McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 59, cert. den. 422 U.S. 1007. Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 63, cert. den. 422 U.S. 1007; Texaco Producing, Inc. v. Kern County, 66 Cal.App.4th 1029. The petitioner must establish the full value of the property by independent evidence and not merely by an attempt to refute the valuation made by the assessor. San Diego County v. Assessment Appeals Board No. 2, 148 Cal.App.3d 548; Shubat v. Sutter County Assessment Appeals Board, 13 Cal.App.4th 794. An assessment appeals board did not err in finding that a taxpayer failed to overcome the presumption of Property Tax Rule 321, that the assessor "properly performed his duty and assessed all properties fairly", where there was an insufficient showing of assessment inequality to shift any burden of proof to the assessor; and the board properly applied the presumption against the taxpayer. Fujitsu Microelectronics, Inc. v. Assessment Appeals Board, 55 Cal.App.4th 1120. The effect of the presumption that an assessor has properly performed his or her duty and has assessed all properties fairly and upon an equal basis is to impose upon the applicant for a reduction in assessment the burden of proving that property in question has not been correctly assessed. The applicant must show that the assessor's chosen valuation method was arbitrary, in excess of discretion, or in violation of legal standards. Mission Housing Development Company v. City and County of San Francisco, 59 Cal.App.4th 55.
Prior to the 1966 amendment of this section, the petitioner had to meet the burden of proof of an unfair or discriminatory assessment by a comparison of the assessment ratio applied to his property with the ratio of all the taxable property in the county. Schwarz v. Marin County, 271 Cal.App.2d 120.
The fact that the escaped assessments equated the burden on the taxpayers' property with that of other owners of business personal property is of no avail if at the same time that class of property has been subjected to a discriminatory burden because of the general relationship of assessments to market value throughout the city as a whole. Lilli Ann Corp. v. City and County of San Francisco, 70 Cal.App.3d 162.
Expert testimony.—The board is not compelled to adopt, as determinative of market value, the testimony of expert witnesses produced before it by a taxpayer. Eastern-Columbia, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 61 Cal.App.2d 734; A. F. Gilmore Co. v. Los Angeles County, 186 Cal.App.2d 471; Campbell Chain Co. v. Alameda County, 12 Cal.App.3d 248.
Action on evidence final.—When evidence has in fact been taken, the action of the board thereon in raising an assessment, in the absence of fraud or an abuse of discretion, is final. Universal Consolidated Oil Co. v. Byram, 25 Cal.2d 353; H. & W. Pierce, Inc. v. Santa Barbara County, 40 Cal.App. 302; Eastern-Columbia, Inc., v. Los Angeles County, 61 Cal.App.2d 734; McClelland v. Board of Supervisors, 30 Cal.2d 124; A. F. Gilmore Co. v. Los Angeles County, 186 Cal.App.2d 471; DeLucia v. Merced County, 257 Cal.App.2d 620. The decision of the board upon the evidence cannot be attacked by new evidence on the point in a superior court. Bank of America v. Mundo, 37 Cal.2d 1; American Chemical Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 45, cert. den. 422 U.S. 1007. In discharging its duty of determining the value of the property and the fairness of the assessment, the board's determination upon the merits of the controversy is conclusive. A taxpayer has no right to a trial de novo in the superior court to resolve conflicting issues of fact as to the taxable value of his or her property. Norby Lumber Company, Inc. v. Madera County, 202 Cal.App.3d 1352.
State board ratios previously inadmissible.—State board determinations of the countywide ratios for prior years were properly excluded as evidence in local equalization proceedings prior to the 1967–68 tax year. Web Service Co. v. Los Angeles County, 242 Cal.App.2d 1; Griffith v. Los Angeles County, 267 Cal.App.2d 837; Campbell Chain Co. v. Alameda County, 12 Cal.App.3d 248; McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 57, cert. den. 422 U.S. 1007. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 42 Cal.App.3d 59, cert. den. 422 U.S. 1007. Even where state board ratios were admitted to disprove the county ratio, the taxpayer was not entitled to a reduction of his assessment without a showing that the board's determination of full cash value throughout the county did not vary from the assessor's so as to cause the disproportion in the assessment ratios. Glidden Company v. Alameda County, 5 Cal.App.3d 371. A deviation of more than 15 percent of the ratio of assessed to full cash value from the ratio of assessment as found by the State Board of Equalization shall be prima facie evidence of inequitable assessment. Safeway Stores, Inc., v. Alameda County, 51 Cal.App.3d 783.
Value.—On what constitutes evidence of value, see annotations to Section 110.
(D) JUDICIAL REVIEW
County may obtain writ to review assessment appeals board decision.—On a finding that agreements between R.C.A. and the state as to data processing equipment were conditional sales contracts, an assessment appeals board canceled assessments and refunded taxes on the equipment. Court granted the county a writ of review on the basis the county had no adequate remedy at law, found the agreements were leases, the lessor's interest was taxable, and directed the assessment appeals board to annul its decision and rehear the matter on the issue of value. Sacramento County v. Assessment Appeals Board No. 2, 32 Cal.App.3d 654. On findings that residential properties were nonmarketable on the lien date, that the value of land was one-sixth of its intrinsic market value, and that improvements thereon had a zero market value, an assessment appeals board reduced the taxable values of such properties. Court granted the county a writ of review, concluded that the board's decisions were not supported by the findings or the findings were not supported by substantial evidence, and directed the board to set aside its decisions and reconsider the matter. Even without a specific statutory authority, a trial court has jurisdiction to review decisions of an assessment appeals board. San Diego County v. Assessment Appeals Board No. 2, 148 Cal.App.3d 548.
Scope of review.—In the absence of fraud or arbitrary use of its powers, the county board is the sole judge of questions of fact and of the values of property. Bank of America v. Mundo, 37 Cal.2d 1. The scope of review for a superior court in reviewing the administrative record of a local assessment appeals board is that of reviewing the entire record to determine if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Hunt-Wesson Foods, Inc. v. Alameda County, 41 Cal.App.3d 163; Dennis v. Santa Clara County, 215 Cal.App.3d 1019; Freeport-McMoran Resource Partners v. Lake County, 12 Cal.App.4th 634; Shubat v. Sutter County Assessment Appeals Board, 13 Cal.App.4th 794; Orange County v. Orange County Assessment Appeals Board No. 1, 13 Cal.App.4th 524. American Sheds, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 66 Cal.App.4th 384. Upon determining that a local board's assessment was not supported by substantial evidence, the trial court did not err in remanding to the board for further proceedings rather than resolving the valuation issue itself, since the board is the sole judge of questions of fact and of values of property. Kaiser Center, Inc. v. Alameda County, 189 Cal.App.3d 978. Where the superior court reviews the validity of an assessor's method of assessment, it need not determine whether there was substantial evidence to support the decision of the local assessment appeals board; rather, it inquires into whether the challenged method of valuation is arbitrary, in excess of discretion, or in violation of the standards prescribed by law. Where, however, the court reviews a challenge to the result reached by the assessor after applying a sound valuation method, its task is to review the entire record to determine if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. In doing so, it accords deference to the factual findings made by the Board. Prudential Insurance Co. v. City and County of San Francisco, 191 Cal.App.3d 1142. May Department Stores Co. v. Los Angeles County, 196 Cal.App.3d 755; Simms v. Pope, Cal.App.3d 472; Los Angeles County v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 219 Cal.App.3d 715. If the local board of equalization has used an improper method of value or has failed to use proper criteria in valuing the property, and there is no evidence or there is a conflict in the evidence from which a proper value can or should be made, the trial court must remand the matter to the local board for further proceedings. The constitutional responsibility to assess falls to the local board, not to the courts. Norby Lumber Company, Inc. v. Madera County, 202 Cal.App.3d 1352. County's contention that the county assessment appeals board's conclusion that cable television company's franchises were nontaxable intangibles presented a question of law, and thus the appellate court was not confined to determining whether substantial evidence supported the board's decision. Stanislaus County v. Assessment Appeals Board, 213 Cal.App.3d 1445.
Upon review of a local board of equalization's findings on stipulated facts that an amendment of a mineral lease and a surrender of a sublease for the taking of sand were changes in ownership, the trial court properly concluded that the board's findings were conclusions of law. The determinations of what happened were factual questions, but the legal effects of those events, including whether they constituted changes of ownership, were legal questions upon which the trial court was required to exercise independent judgment. Howard v. Amador County, 220 Cal.App.3d 962.
Substantial evidence.—The term "substantial evidence" should be construed to confer finality upon an administrative decision on the facts when, upon an examination of the entire record, the evidence, including the inferences therefrom, is found to be such that a reasonable man, acting reasonably, might have reached the decision. Dennis v. Santa Clara County, 215 Cal.App.3d 1019; Los Angeles County v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 219 Cal.App.3d 715. Trial court did not err in finding that substantial evidence supported the county board's conclusion that it was reasonable for the assessor to value a tire manufacturing plant as a going concern, notwithstanding the fact that shortly after the valuation was made, but before it was entered on the roll, the company decided to close the plant and six months later did so. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Monterey County, 223 Cal.App.3d 382.
Valuation method.—Where the challenge is to the result reached by the assessor after applying an admittedly proper method of valuation, the trial court sits as an appellate court and applies the substantial evidence test to decide whether the board's determination is proper. Where, however, the challenge is directed at the method, that is, the technique used in valuating the property, a legal issue is presented upon which the trial court is empowered to take additional evidence. Bret Harte Inn, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, 16 Cal.3d 14; Jones v. Los Angeles County, 114 Cal.App.3d 999; Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Orange County, 187 Cal.App.3d 1141; Norby Lumber Company, Inc. v. Madera County, 202 Cal.App.3d 1352; Dominguez Energy, L.P. v. Los Angeles County, 56 Cal.App.4th 839; Texaco Producing, Inc. v. Kern County, 66 Cal.App.4th 1029; Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Santa Barbara County, 92 Cal.App.4th 1347. Where an appeal from an assessment appeals board determination centers upon the methodology of valuation for a taxpayer's property, the matter is a question of law subject to the appellate court's independent review. The appellate court must determine whether the challenged method of valuation is arbitrary, in excess of discretion, or in violation of the standards prescribed by law. It must also determine whether substantial evidence supports the board's value determination, by whatever standard that value must be determined. Maples v. Assessment Appeals Board, 103 Cal.App.4th 172. The issue of whether a stadium food and beverage franchisee's valuation of assets could include the value of the franchisee's going business (enterprise value) was one of law to which the trial court was bound to apply its independent judgment. Service America Corporation v. San Diego County, 15 Cal.App.4th 1232. Where a taxpayer challenges the valuation of property on the ground that an improper methodology was used, that is, that the assessor violated the standards prescribed by law, the issue is one of law. Main & Von Karman Associates v. Orange County, 23 Cal.App.4th 337.
Trial de novo.—The trial court properly conducted a trial de novo, where each of the issues involved (proper classification of assets, whether the valuation method doubly taxed the taxpayer's carpeting, the significance to be accorded the investment tax credit, application of the abandoned property formula, and the propriety of the method of depreciating point of sale equipment) presented a question of law or at best a mixed question of fact and law. However, whether the trial court was also free to disregard the record of evidence presented to the county board depended upon whether the trial court resolved the particular issues as one of fact or as one of law; if the issue were resolved as one of fact, the trial court needed to consider the evidence presented to the board. May Department Stores Co. v. Los Angeles County, 196 Cal.App.3d 755. Whether the assessor failed to comply with State Board of Equalization property tax rules requiring adjustments to comparable sales data is a question of law and therefore, reviewable de novo. Mitchell v. Los Angeles County, 60 Cal.App.4th 497. Questions of law are subject to de novo review. CAT Partnership v. Santa Cruz County, 63 Cal.App.4th 1071. When valuing taxpayer's oil processing facility, the board erred in not applying the valuation methodology set forth in Property Tax Rule 468. Challenges that go to valuation methodology present a question of law subject to de novo review. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Santa Barbara County, 92 Cal.App.4th 1347.
Remand.—Where the assessor used the comparable sales method to value properties but did not follow the requirements of property tax rule 4 when doing so, remand of the matter to the assessment appeals board for further hearings, to be completed according to the standards prescribed by law, was the proper remedy, not directing the board to accept the taxpayer's evidence or income method of valuation. Main & Von Karman Associates v. Orange County, 23 Cal.App.4th 337. Where the assessor used the comparable sales method to value a property but did not follow the requirements of Property Tax Rule 4 when doing so, remand of the matter to the assessment appeals board for further hearing is the proper remedy. Mitchell v. Los Angeles County, 60 Cal.App.4th 497. A remand to the assessment appeals board is generally required if value determinations remain. Where the board assigned a separate value to the rate protection provisions in a franchise agreement, which assignation the trial court determined to be improper, the trial court could excise that value from the board's determination, without remand. CAT Partnership v. Santa Cruz County, 63 Cal.App.4th 1071.