They're the East Bay's elite eight — cities where assessed property values have bucked downward trends and eased the pain city governments are feeling from the recession.

Alameda, Piedmont, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda have all seen their assessed property values increase, albeit slightly, according to data from the Alameda and Contra Costa counties' assessors' offices.

The increases are from 1.5 percent to 5.4 percent, but they buck a trend that has seen assessed values decrease by 2.24 percent in Alameda County and 7.2 percent in Contra Costa County.

Property tax assessments are calculated by county assessors' offices and are used to determine property taxes to be paid for a given parcel. Property values, on the other hand, are set by what a house or parcel would fetch on the real estate market. The two are distinct and separate numbers, and property values can drop even when property tax assessed values rise.

"I suspect it's because we are not suffering the same foreclosure rates as other communities," said Lisa Goldman, Alameda's deputy city manager. "We also have a lot of older properties that tend to hold their value."

Some observers suggest that in cities with fewer home sales, houses usually are also reassessed less often.


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Steve Reiser, president of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors, said Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda are three cities where homes change ownership less often. When people stay in their homes longer, he said, the value of the property is more likely to increase when they eventually sell.

"You're probably going to see overall the adjustments go up because there's not a lot of turnover," he said.

In areas where there has been more turnover, assessed values were driven up faster and so are more likely to decline in the recession, Reiser said.

Alameda County Chief Deputy Assessor Russ Hall agreed, pointing to lower turnover as a possible factor in increased assessed values.

He said cities where taxable valuation has increased are those with values that were, on average, higher to begin with.

"Those folks, they buy those very nice houses and they're happy," Hall said. "They don't sell them."

In Piedmont, the average sale price has dropped as the economy has slumped, despite the assessment values remaining about steady, said Mark Bichsel, the city's finance director. The average price is now $1.4 million, compared to $1.7 million a few years ago, when the market was booming.

Regardless of what has caused the assessed value increases, city officials are happy to have the additional property tax money — or at least to not see another revenue source dwindle.

"It certainly helps," Goldman said. "But there are so many factors that play into our budget that it's hard to say how it will affect things."

This year Alameda could lose about $2.2 million in property taxes — part of the money the state wants from local governments to help bridge a $26 billion deficit — under the latest budget proposal from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Lafayette had budgeted for about a 3 percent increase in property tax revenue, just less than the 3.31 percent increase now expected, said Administrative Services Director Tracy Robinson. The monetary difference is small, about $50,000, but Robinson said the extra cash is more than welcome.

"Fifty-thousand dollars is $50,000," she said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Antioch officials were told their property tax revenues would be reduced nearly 22 percent, much larger than the 4 percent reduction that had been budgeted, for a total hit of $3.25 million.

"It means we can't maintain operating in the current manner, even in the current fiscal year," said City Manager Jim Jakel. "We're going to have to make significant operational changes."

Staff writers Hilary Costa and Peter Hegarty contributed to this story.