Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - May 6, 2011

A majority vote loses out in Pleasanton

Thank heaven, the 35% of Tuesday's voters who managed to quash the Measure E $98 a year parcel tax vote in Pleasanton don't have a similar controlling voice in the rest of our city's or the state's operations or most of us would be heading for someplace else. That's all it took to deny more than $2 million in desperately needed funds for school children and education in our community. The opponents of Measure E, including the right-wing and Tea Party advocates who spoke against the parcel tax at recent school board meetings, couldn't find a majority of like-minded voters if they had campaigned openly. Yet because of California's peculiar system of "direct democracy" and its two-thirds-plus-one vote requirements for tax measures to become law, the minority rules. In its current magazine, The Economist offers a special report on California's dysfunctional democracy. It could have substituted the word "Pleasanton," where two-to-three speakers with loud, demanding voices can scuttle a tax measure to support our schools or, across First Street, to cause the City Manager to go back on his handshake agreement with the city employees union on an already negotiated contract.

This citizen legislature is causing chaos with those elected to govern the city and the school board, who are barred from fighting back against a barely visible minority that doesn't like the job they're doing but doesn't want to seek public office and all the burdens that go with it to do the job their way. At least Steve Brozosky, who served on both the City Council and the Pleasanton school board -- and has now turned against the actions of both -- makes his opposition publicly with well thought-out reasons for his positions. We'll give credit, too, to David Miller, a self-proclaimed Tea Party member, whose children attend Pleasanton public schools, and Doug Miller, outgoing head of the Pleasanton post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a spokesman for local veterans, who have been consistent in their public comments, demanding a pay freeze or rollback in salaries and benefits for city and school district employees.

For the most part, there was no organized opposition to the parcel tax and only a few yard signs urging a No vote on Measure E. So we don't know why Measure E failed. Charles Heath of TBWB Strategies, a consulting group that was paid $250,000 to develop strategy for passing the parcel tax, remarked Tuesday night that the measure would have "won by a landslide" if it were not for the state's requirement that a tax increase must receive two-thirds of the vote. We all knew this going into Tuesday's parcel tax vote -- the second to fail in the last two years -- but we relied on the costly expertise of Mr. Heath and fellow consultant Bryan Godbe that this time, because of their surveys and campaign strategies, victory was a sure thing.

Perhaps three times is a charm, which is why some school board members already are calling for another try at a parcel tax. We doubt that will happen this year or next. In the meantime, the 65% of us who supported Measure E have little recourse but to watch as more teachers are terminated, more programs cut, class sizes increased and programs for our most needy and vulnerable students reduced or paired with neighboring school districts. With another 3,000 residents expected to move to Pleasanton in the next few years as the result of state housing department and Superior Court orders, Pleasanton will need to provide at least one more elementary school to stay within its 600+ elementary school population policy. But with a $7 million budget deficit for the coming school year, an anti-school tax controlling minority, and a governor whose tax and budget plans are stalled by the same radical minority in Sacramento, we can expect school populations here to increase in the short term and the historic lure of the city's quality education program to start to fade.

Correction: The editorial on May 6 should have said that TBWB Strategies a consulting group was paid $85,102 by the Pleasanton school district to develop strategy for winning the Measure E parcel tax election. The school district incurred additional costs of $200,000 to $250,000 to hold the mail-by-ballot election.

Comments

Posted by Start Afresh, a resident of Country Fair
on May 6, 2011 at 7:00 am

(Comment removed by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff for containing unverified or personal information.) Rather than lashing out at the few citizens who are participating in the civic process, you would better serve the public by answering the question of why Measure E failed.
As tens of thousands of teachers mobilize for a week of union actions next week including an 'occupation of the state capitol' and as CTA, the most powerful lobbying organization in CA puts up billboards, makes radio and tv ads, and donates $1500 to the Measure E campaign, you choose to call out the three individuals for attention.
If PUSD and the unions dig in their heels and refuse to think newly about the systemic roots of their fiscal issues, and choose instead to fight harder, their vacuous rhetoric becomes only more exposed for the educated voter to see.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

Stacey is a registered user.

"but we relied on the costly expertise of Mr. Heath and fellow consultant Bryan Godbe that this time, because of their surveys and campaign strategies, victory was a sure thing."

I disagree with this idea. Their surveys showed that there was no support if the money would be used for raises, regardless of the amount of the tax. It was the interpretation of the surveys that lead to this defeat. Supporters focused solely on finding an amount with wide support to their own detriment.

Moreover, it would be highly undemocratic if some voters that directly benefited from a special tax could levy the tax on everyone else that do not directly benefit just by a 55% majority. Special interests could just start taxing the people for their own special projects that do not benefit the public good by holding special low-turnout elections and convincing a small number of the registered-to-vote population to vote yes. The potential for abuse with that is very high. That's why the California Constitution has required two-thirds for special taxes for a very long time, to ensure that there is broad support. Another way to achieve broad support is by requiring a quorum of voters with a simple majority threshold.


Posted by DJohns, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 6, 2011 at 9:07 am

DJohns is a registered user.

People who will not pay the tax can vote to tax me.

People who are not informed can vote to tax me based on ignorant emotional appeals.

The laws are intended to level the balance of power but PUSD spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and campaign illegally, while a handful of informed citizen use nothing more than facts to win!

It is disturbing that a newspaper would chastise citizen participation.

PUSD gets away with lies, breaking laws and withholding public information because of complicity of the press.

If this editorial was written by Jeb a conflict of interest disclosure is required.


Posted by SteveP, a resident of Parkside
on May 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

SteveP is a registered user.

I'm surprised and disappointed at both the tone and content of your topic. You don't think tax issues that negatively impact the vast majority of the cities inhabitants should not require the approval of the vast majority? Why the hostile tone? Did you send your $98 directly to teh school yet? How will it be spent?
Once you find out, let me know and I'll send in my check. While you're at it, find out how the district plans to address their budegte long term, especially their salary and pension liability.


Posted by javadoc, a resident of Dublin
on May 6, 2011 at 11:43 am

javadoc is a registered user.

To the Editor:

No doubt California's system of direct Democracy is a source of consternation, but without the supermajority requirement for tax increases, the situation would likely be worse, as others suggested above.

You may denigrate the "Tea Party" all you like, but they at least are raising basic foundational issues about our system(s) of government that have been neglected for far too long. I believe that in this case, the government unions have become Factions, as Hamilton and Madison discussed in the Federalist. The supermajority requirement is the only check we have, in our state system of direct Democracy.


Posted by DJohns, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 6, 2011 at 11:57 am

DJohns is a registered user.

I truly appreciate the Pleasanton Weekly staff and value the paper but sometimes you are VERY WRONG!

It is disturbing that a newspaper would chastise citizen participation.

PUSD gets away with lies, breaking laws and withholding public information because of complicity of the press. PUSD manipulated the PW to not cover the illegal refunding and cashing out of the bonds until after measure E was over.

"$2 million in desperately needed funds for school children and education in our community"

Really, again for the children? It was for staff raises at a time when we can not afford them!

"The opponents of Measure E, including the right-wing and Tea Party advocates who spoke against the parcel tax at recent school board meetings, couldn't find a majority of like-minded voters if they had campaigned openly."

This is unfair categorizing the opposition loosely came together from different perspectives but shared concerns about PUSD management. I am not right-wing nor Tea Party and I am admittedly afraid to be too public. I know that our children are targeted and those who had "No" signs in their yards had their homes vandalized.

"Yet because of California's peculiar system of "direct democracy" and its two-thirds-plus-one vote requirements for tax measures to become law, the minority rules."

People who will not pay the tax can vote to tax me. People who are not informed can vote to tax me based on ignorant emotional appeals.

"but don't want to seek public office and all the burdens that go with it"

A cheap shot on so many levels. Many of us have paid their dues and paid a big price for it! Look at the candidates who the PW endorses... only union candidates (a teachers husband???). It is not the reluctance to serve but the unwillingness to make our children and ourselves further targets as well as the significant financial burden of a campaign.

"two-to-three speakers with loud, demanding voices"

The facts only seem loud because they are disturbing.

"school board, who are barred from fighting back against a barely visible minority"

Unbelievable! PUSD has a media(propaganda) machine, high paid full time Public Information Officer, CTV Your Schools Program, four page ads in the weekly, School newsletters, control of public meetings with unlimited time to lie and pontificate while citizens get 3 minutes or kept from speaking entirely. The district has hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for consultants and campaigning!

"For the most part, there was no organized opposition to the parcel tax and only a few yard signs urging a No vote on Measure E. So we don't know why Measure E failed. a consulting group that was paid $250,000 to develop strategy for passing the parcel tax, "

It failed because some courageous citizens spoke up and shared disturbing facts!
The laws are intended to level the balance of power but PUSD spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and campaigned illegally, while a handful of informed citizen use nothing more than facts to prevail!

"meantime, the 65% of us who supported Measure E have little recourse but to watch as more teachers are terminated, more programs cut,"

This message is misplaced! The responsible message would be to demand that the school board refuse the contract Tuesday night. Furlough days must match the certified contract, S&C must be frozen and administrators must take a 5% reduction, giving back the sneaky raise that they snuck through three years ago. Then there would be no more layoffs! Put the responsibility were it belongs on PUSD.


Posted by Chemist, a resident of Downtown
on May 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Chemist is a registered user.

The two-thirds majority is to prevent renters and other people who do not pay property taxes from controlling tax votes. The Measure E failure was especially telling given the District's effort to get out the Yes vote from teachers and parents, while keeping the election outside of the normal election process to reduce the number of voters. As it came out, it seems that Measure E did not even get the support of the teachers and parents. If another parcel tax measure is foisted upon this community, using the tax dollars we have already given toward Pleasanton education, it will go down in flames unless salaries of administrators and teachers are frozen and it is clear that the money will be used to hire new teachers and reduce class sizes instead of enriching the existing employees. Measure E was never "for the children" and just enough voters figured that out.


Posted by chemist, a resident of Downtown
on May 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm

chemist is a registered user.

By the way, I think it would be absolutely wonderful if the "35% of Tuesday's voters" that were able to quash Measure E were in control of the city's and the state's operation. They might be able to engineer a return to fiscal sanity that would give Californians the right to work and the jobs to work. The current PUSD, city and state governments, under the control of the teacher's and public employee unions, have their collective heads in the sand. We are heading for a fiscal disaster. Thanks to Steve, David, Doug and the other citizens of Pleasanton who are courageously speaking out against the foolishness of our our School Board and City Council. Throwing more money into a broken system is not the answer - we need some real change while there is still a ray of hope.


Posted by Pepper, a resident of Old Towne
on May 11, 2011 at 8:21 am

Pepper is a registered user.

OK, let's see, this has been voted on and defeated over and over again in the last 3 or 4 elections by a majority of the voters. Now you call us a minority. I'm guessing by your logic that you must be a liberal.

In my 48 years of voting for and against more money for schools, I have seen no proof the more money leads to anything positive.

I do agree that California does have a dysfunctional democracy. Why else would we still have Pelosi and Boxer among others?


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