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March 26, 2008


By Neil Gonzales



Oracle's Ellison challenges estate assessment, wins $3 million refund



Larry Ellison just got a little richer.


The founder and chief executive of Oracle, worth $25 billion according to Forbes, challenged the San Mateo County assessment on his 23-acre Japanese-style compound in Woodside. And he won.


The county's Assessment Appeals Board said assessors failed to account for the "functional obsolescence" of an estate valued at an estimated $173 million last year.


In a ruling that is expected to reduce the assessment to about $70 million, the board cited "the limited market appeal of 16th century Japanese architecture and grounds" and "the limited amenities of the main residential structure due to its design and layout."


The reassessment will give Ellison an estimated $3 million tax refund, said Terry Flinn, deputy county assessor.


That reduces funding for agencies countywide that receive property-tax revenues, Flinn said.


The Portola Valley School District could be hit hard, said Assistant Superintendent Tim Hanretty. Portola Valley is a basic-aid district, which means it receives most of its funding from property taxes.


The change in value on Ellison's property is projected to reduce the district's revenue from $250,000 to $300,000 annually beginning in the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to Hanretty.


"It's a significant chunk," he said Wednesday. "It's a permanent, ongoing reduction."


That money would have gone into the district's general fund, which pays for day-to-day expenses such as teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies.


Ellison's Octopus Holdings challenged the county's assessment of his estate, which was built based on a Japanese emperor's 16th-century country residence and features a main house, a two-bedroom guest dwelling and an artificial lake.


The county assessed the property at $163 million in May 2004. Octopus Holdings had it at $64 million. In December, the Assessment Appeals Board sided with Octopus Holdings.


San Francisco-based attorney William Bennett, who represents Octopus Holdings, could not be reached for comment.


Based on the board's ruling, the property's value is projected to be about $70 million this year - a decline from the estimated $173 million in 2007.