On Wednesday, Aug. 1, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education will consider placing a $385 million school construction/improvement bond on the November ballot.

The measure would cost the average property owner $185 per year and be divided up by the number of units in apartment buildings and added on to monthly rents.

Polling conducted by the district earlier this year revealed that voters would be more favorable to a construction bond which could only be used for capital improvements to the schools as opposed to a parcel tax which could be used for general operating expenses including teacher salaries.

A bond measure requires only 55 percent voter approval while a parcel tax measure requires two-thirds voter approval. Polling showed a parcel tax netting a 62 percent positive vote and failing while a bond proposition would deliver 64 percent — well in excess of what’s needed to prevail.

This funding measure is exceptionally cynical because it’s about grabbing money now, not about any studied or defined needs.

Although the need to fund day-to-day school operations is probably greater due to massive cuts in state education spending, the District’s Economic Feasibility Committee recommended floating a bond measure mainly because it has a better chance of voter approval.

Floating a bond because it has the best chance of winning is proof that it’s only about wringing more money from Santa Monica and Malibu citizens, not about addressing real needs because a specific list of critical construction/renovation projects doesn’t exist. Even more cynical is that the leading advocates for these biennial ballot measures are wealthy North of Montana homeowners to whom $185 is just lunch at a trendy restaurant.

Some school board members and school supporters feel that because there are already two statewide school measures on the November ballot already — measures 30 and 38 — and we’re still in a down economy, 2012 is not the right time to ask voters to open their wallets, again. They also say floating a school bond now would make passage of a school parcel tax in 2014 even more difficult.

Conversely, bond advocates say the money is always needed and holding off another two years is taking a gamble because waiting won’t guarantee passage of a fundraising measure.

Recent revenue-raising successes include a 2006 school improvement bond (Measure BB) that raised $268 million and still has tens of millions of dollars remaining to be spent, a parcel tax measure in 2008 and a half-cent sales tax increase in 2010.

If you thought it wasn’t just about the money, attorney Neil Carrey, chair of the Economic Feasibility Committee, said that if we wait until 2014, there’s a strong possibility that we’ll be competing with bond measures from City Hall and Santa Monica College. The only problem is that neither entity has announced any ballot measures for 2014.

A citizens group has already formed to oppose any school tax or bond propositions. Let the games begin.

 

SMRR lines ‘em up

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) held their annual convention, Sunday, July 22 and endorsed ballot propositions and candidates for City Council and other public offices.

The SMRR convention is a major event in local politics. SMRR endorsees are overwhelmingly favored to win in the November election because renters comprise approximately three-quarters of Santa Monica’s voters.

First up was the endorsement of either Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom or Assemblywoman Betsy Butler for the redrawn 50th Assembly District. For a SMRR endorsement, the winner must receive support from at least 55 percent of the voting members present when the vote is taken.

Neither candidate received the requisite 55 percent. Out of 191 votes cast, Bloom received 90 votes and Butler received 101 votes. Although Bloom had been endorsed in previous council races by SMRR, he seems to have fallen out of favor with some key SMRR power players. One reason might be his support of a proposed “anti-renter” city ordinance that would restrict smoking in apartments and create a “hit” list of tenants who smoke.

When I arrived, Denny Zane, a SMRR co-founder, current leader and former Santa Monica mayor was wearing a Betsy Butler sticker. Although Zane was one of the first to back Torie Osborn in the state primaries, she lost. Zane apparently switched to Butler, the top vote getter in the primary who finished slightly ahead of Bloom.

Later, I noticed Zane wasn’t wearing his ”Butler” sticker probably because of flack from his follow SMRR leaders over Butler’s controversial endorsement by the Apartment Owners Association of Greater Los Angeles and questions about her commitment to renters’ protections.

Ted Winterer garnered a first round endorsement over five other council hopefuls — incumbents Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis, former 1990s councilman Tony Vazquez, school activist Shari Davis and attorney Frank Gruber.

In the second round of voting, incumbent Gleam Davis received an endorsement. In the third and final round, none of the remaining candidates received enough votes for an endorsement.

However, SMRR’s Steering Committee met Saturday and filled in two holes where no member endorsements were made during the convention last Sunday. It was widely believed by members I talked to at that time that Tony Vazquez and incumbent Terry O’Day would probably get the committee’s council nod and they did. SMRR’s council slate will be Winterer, Davis, O’Day and Vazquez.

Three previously endorsed school board and Santa Monica College Board of Trustees candidates for re-election were approved by member acclimation along with two Rent Control Board hopefuls.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.