Last week, I wrote that City Hall was trying to determine a legal way to share revenues with the schools from a half cent increase in the sales and use tax (Measures Y and YY) approved by voters last fall. Half of the total annual monies — about $12 million — generated by the April 1 increase are involved.
The question is, how can City Hall “share the wealth” without appearing to give annual, multi-million dollar gifts to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District? Revenue given must be balanced by something of fair and/or equal value to avoid being a gift.
Article XVI Section 6 of the California State Constitution prohibits a municipal subdivision from making a gift of public money to any person or other municipal corporation — including a school district. California Civil Procedure Section 526(a). “authorizes any citizen resident to obtain a judgment restraining and preventing an illegal expenditure of government funds or property." City Hall could be sued by any taxpayer who claims illegal expenditure of public funds was made.
Thursday night, the City Council authorized the city manager to negotiate and execute a “program agreement” with the SMMUSD to allow City Hall access to athletic facilities at Santa Monica High School for public use during non-school hours in exchange for “reasonable compensation" — about $6-million annually — over a 10 year period with 10 year extensions.
There are questions. Is $6 million overpaying for part-time use of high school athletic facilities as many observers claim it is.
And, if the amount paid annually for the lease is purely dependent upon the tax collected (which may vary from year to year), is a gift created if use diminishes? Conversely, if revenues increase the following years, does the additional tax money from City Hall to the district constitute a gift?
Some think it’s extremely unlikely that a court would invalidate a city appropriation of its funds to a school district if the City Council finds the district’s schools serve a purpose for the city of Santa Monica. One counter argument is that the SMMUSD includes both the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu. City Hall funds given to the SMMUSD are also spent in Malibu which didn’t raise sales taxes.
It appears that the SMMUSD and City Hall are both on thin ice unless legal details are carefully worked out. Glossing over the “fair and equal value” requirement because it’s for “our kids” could put the district’s already shaky financial situation at even greater risk.
What attorney is representing the school district in these negotiations? Marsha Moutrie? Ehhhh … wrong! She’s the city attorney. Nobody seems to have been hired to legally represent the SMMUSD in these business negotiations making a lot of us wonder what district administrators and school board members are thinking in their desperate rush to secure funding — if at all.
One last thought about one-way streets. School cheerleaders want revenue directed to district coffers, ASAP. But, what if the situation were reversed? A financially strapped City Hall asks a solvent (as if that were to ever happen) SMMUSD to contribute its funds to help maintain essential city fire, police and emergency services? I’m thinking school supporters would scream bloody murder.
Pico Library update
I participated in a conference call last week with Architectural Services Manager Miriam Muldur , Assistant to the City Manager Kate Vernez, Director of Library Systems Gregg Mullen and the new Director of Public Works Martin Pastucha about Virginia Park Branch Library costs.
Pastucha tells me that “construction only” estimates are around $553 per square foot or about $5.6 million for the proposed 8,300-square-foot facility. Add staff overhead (for all those meetings), a 10 percent contingency, $500,000 to $750,000 for furnishings, seven to 10 percent architect/engineering fees and costs begin to near the estimated $11.4 million overall budget necessary to fully complete the project.
“[The] $11.4 million is an absolutely worse case scenario and we have to plan for the very worst. Finished cost should be under $11.4 million — possibly $9 or $10 million,” Pastucha said. “We’ll have a better fix on real costs once there’s an approved final design, build drawings are completed, bids are submitted and contracts are let."
I still think it’s a lot of money.
Memorial Day — a time to honor
Today is Memorial Day and Santa Monica’s 73rd Annual Memorial Day Service will be held at Woodlawn Cemetery beginning at 11 a.m.
In addition to the prayers and remembrances for those brave men and women who gave their lives for liberty, there’ll be stirring music from the University of Southern California Marching Band, Santa Monica Chorus and Angel City Chorale — and a flyover of military aircraft.
I always find this service to be an introspective experience. It’s an honor to be there and reflect on the accomplishments and deeds of those who have given their lives for our country and to venerate them for their sacrifice.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.