SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) — Santa Clara County Tax Assessor Larry Stone filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Monday in an attempt to reverse a decision that awarded a $36 million property tax refund to the 49ers.
Stone is suing the Appeals Assessment Board and named the 49ers as a respondent over the board’s November 2018 ruling that determined the 49ers were only responsible for 50% of their property tax bill for the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium, retroactive to August 2014. That resulted in an immediate $36 million refund, as well as $6 million tax cut every year going forward.
Stone said the 49ers appealed the tax bill last year on the basis that the NFL season is only six months long, and that non-football events, such as concerts, soccer game, and private corporate events, are managed by the 49ers.
“The San Francisco 49ers control that stadium 12 months a year. To say that they’re only responsible for the property taxes for half of that year is just unbelievable to us,” said Stone.
The $36 million refund meant the Santa Clara Unified School District had to refund $13 million, West Valley College refunded $3 million, Santa Clara County gave back $5 million and the City of Santa Clara gave back $3 million.
“The City believes Assessor Stone’s position for the appeal is strong and will correct this flawed outcome, resulting in the County Assessor’s original assessment being restored,” according to a statement from the City of Santa Clara.
Stone said it took his staff months to perform the calculations and make sense of the multiple LLCs and intertwined partnerships that are tied to Levi’s Stadium. He also said that the assessment appeals board, who approved the tax refund, likely got “confused” at the complexity of the appeal.
“I think the assessment appeals board couldn’t arrive at a decision and they threw up their hands,” said Stone.
Stone added that his office requested the “Final Findings of Fact,” a report that is typically released shortly after the assessment appeals board makes rulings. The report explains the rationale and decision making process. But months after the initial request, Stone has not yet received the report, but he’s been told it will come July 1.
“We haven’t received the ‘Final Findings of Fact’ from the Assessment Appeals Board, and I think probably because they can’t justify it,” said Stone.
Stone plans to ask the judge to remand the ruling back to an appeals board for yet another reassessment. If the $36 million refund is overturned, the 49ers could be required to give back the money.
“This decision sets a troubling precedent that is legally incorrect and must be reversed,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams.
“Communities spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build stadiums to attract professional sports teams. But when the owners of these teams fail to pay their fair share of property taxes, they are taking away money from local schools, police and firefighters, and other valuable services that our communities need,” Williams said in a statement.
The 49ers released a statement, saying, “We are aware of the assessor’s decision to appeal the independent appeals board’s decision regarding possessory interest tax.”