The California Supreme Court Monday struck down a special fee levied to finance open space acquisition in Santa Clara County, saying the assessment should have been approved in a tax measure submitted to all local voters.

The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority established the $20 per single-family household fee through a benefit assessment that was approved by a weighted majority of property owners through a mail ballot.

The high court found that the method violated the state’s 1996 Proposition 218, the Taxpayers’ Right to Vote Act, because the benefit accruing from the assessment would go to the general public, not just owners of the assessed properties. Such a tax would have needed approval from two-thirds of the voters.

“The case is the first big vindication of Proposition 218 by the California Supreme Court,” said Jim Burling of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief urging the court to overturn the assessment.

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