News

College district asked for $564 million, but quietly

Monetary figure left off all campaign brochures asking voters to approve bond measure.

A voter relying on campaign mailers would have been hard pressed this fall to determine how much money was on the table with respect to Measure H, a construction bond measure proposed by the San Mateo County Community College District.

The district was asking property owners for $564 million plus interest, which typically doubles the debt. The figure appeared in official election materials, but not in the district's direct-mail campaign, which included at least six slick, expansive, full-color direct mail pieces.

Voters rejected the measure by a narrow margin on Nov. 8. Previous bond measures raised $675 million, and Measure H was the third request since 2001 for the district's three colleges: Canada College in Woodside, Skyline College in San Bruno, and the College of San Mateo in San Mateo.

To pass, such measures need a 55 percent majority, not the two-thirds normally needed to increase a tax. Voters granted this privilege to school construction bonds in 2001, and Measure H just missed the mark, passing with 53.09 percent.

Had it passed, property owners would have paid about $13 a year for every $100,000 of a property's assessed value for the life of the bonds, typically 30 years.

In waging the direct mail campaign, the committee Citizens for Support of Community Colleges in San Mateo County spent $140,000 on production costs, according to finance reports and confirmed by spokesman James Keller, the interim president of Canada College.

What direct mail said and did not say was the committee's responsibility, Mr. Keller said. Also on the committee were the president of the College of San Mateo, the district chancellor, district communications director, and all five district board members.

Why didn't the total indebtedness figure appear? "I thought we were trying to emphasize what we needed (the money) for," Mr. Keller replied.

Direct mail is "campaign persuasion material," 2011 board President Richard Holober said in a telephone interview.

But $564 million in tax revenues for a public agency? Is that not an important detail? "I don't agree with you, but you're entitled to your opinion," Mr. Holober said.

Mr. Keller substantially agreed. The voter, he said, can find the total indebtedness on the ballot itself. Might a direct mail piece have more impact than a ballot statement? "Don't you read (the ballot)?" Mr. Keller asked.

On the ballot, the total appears as $564,000,000 and is located 11 lines down and 54 words into a 77-word sentence devoted to what can be done with the money and how it will be looked after. Lawyers write such ballot statements, Mr. Holober said.

By leaving "$564 million" out of direct mail, the committee was counting on voters not caring about total indebtedness because they want to help carry on the college district's substantial contributions to the county, Mr. Keller said. "We're all fairly optimistic," he said in describing the committee. "We're very proud of what (the district) has done."

What voters care about, political campaign consultants say, is the bottom line for them and their families, Mr. Holober said. Figures in millions of dollars "have no meaning" to voters, he said.

"In hindsight, we probably would have gotten a higher 'yes' if we had spelled out the cost per $100,000 (of assessed value)," he said.

Asked to comment, Jack Hickey, a Libertarian and an opponent of most tax increases, said that stating the total indebtedness of Measure H would have raised "a red flag" for voters. "Any brochure that we would have put out would have had the number," he said. "They should have had that in there. That's disingenuous, I would say, and not unexpected."

Plenty of donors

The Measure H campaign, which finance reports show collected $341,323 as of Oct. 22, got off to a rolling start with a donation of $131,822 in January. This was left over from 2010, when the district campaigned successfully for a $34 parcel tax, Mr. Keller said.

Sixteen other donors, all corporate, gave more than $5,000 to the campaign. Major donors included construction companies Robert A. Bothman Inc. of San Jose ($50,000), Hensel Phelps Construction Company, which has offices in San Jose ($25,000), and McCarthy Building Companies, which has offices in San Francisco ($25,000).

Comments

Posted by Jon Castor, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Was stunned to read this: But $564 million in tax revenues for a public agency? Is that not an important detail? "I don't agree with you, but you're entitled to your opinion," Mr. Holober said.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Gee, big construction companies donate to a measure for the reconsturction, remodeling or renovation of the grounds. Yet, those in charge fail to actively promote and live up to their supporters. Time for a new board.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Direct mail is "campaign persuasion material," 2011 board President Richard Holober said in a telephone interview. "

Using public funds to lobby for a measure is against the law - public agencies can provide factual, balanced information but they are prohibited by law from lobbying for a measure. The Board president makes it painfully clear that they were lobbying.

I will not hold my breath waiting for our courageous DA to prosecute this crime - even with this clear evidence.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm

The face amount of school bond measures in California is the tip of the iceberg. Most bond measures receive a substantial amount of matching funds from the state. That's us, folks! It just comes out of a different tax pocket.
As far as criminal activity is concerned, my Political Advocacy Watch website has an expose of such activity during the failed 1999 bond effort. Legitimate PR or Felonious Political Advocacy?
Web Link


Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I'm sure the campaign costs were paid by the Citizens for Support of Community Colleges in San Mateo County, which would be an organization separate from the district that raised money specifically for the campaign; hence not using public funds. This is how it is always done when public agencies such as school and community college districts are running a bond or parcel tax campaign. It is the legal way to do it, and I'm sure they followed all laws in this regard, so I wouldn't get too fussed about the DA ignoring this crime that didn't happen.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Other notable items in David Boyce's article:

In waging the direct mail campaign, the committee Citizens for Support of Community Colleges in San Mateo County spent $140,000 on production costs, according to finance reports and confirmed by spokesman James Keller, the interim president of Canada College.
Also on the committee were the president of the College of San Mateo, the district chancellor, district communications director, and all five district board members.

Question: Did this committee have meetings with a quorum of board members present? Or, did they engage in serial meetings as defined by the Brown Act?


The Measure H campaign, which finance reports show collected $341,323 as of Oct. 22, got off to a rolling start with a donation of $131,822 in January. This was left over from 2010, when the district campaigned successfully for a $34 parcel tax, Mr. Keller said.

Question: How much money do they have left over for their next assault on property owners? Watch for their end of the year filing.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm

How much of the leftover funds from the 2010 parcel tax campaign came from the Foundation headed by Stefanie Scott who is on the District payroll? The Foundation contributed >$60,000 of tax-exempt donations to that campaign. Web Link


Posted by Thomas Paine IV, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

The arrogant SO*s did not bother to explain what the bond money would provide in terms of additional classroom capacity. Call me simple but before I vote for more taxes, I want to know how many classrooms we currently have, what % of the time they are used and how many more rooms the additional money would buy. Having visited one of the JC's I found lots of empty rooms during the evening. Perhaps we could expand the school day and better utilize the billion dollar facility we currently have.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Also on the committee were the president of the College of San Mateo, the district chancellor, district communications director, and all five district board members."

If this committee discussed ANY District business when three or more members of the Board were present then they violated the Brown Act.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm

The most ridiculous part of this measure was that the ballot summary did not say that property taxes would be raised or by how much. Instead, it simply presented a long list of potential benefits and stated that bonds would be sold. Exactly how the bonds would be financed is left to the imagination of the voter.

Excuse me, but shouldn't an honest summary present the cost as well as the purported benefits? The ballot language was simply disgraceful.


Posted by scout, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Once AGAIN we note taxpayers BEING RIPPED OFF!!!!!!!


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

Well, at least it failed. Again, voters demonstrated that even a broken clock can be right twice a day.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2011 at 7:47 am

I want to say Thank You to Dave Boyce and the Almanac for doing this story at all. This is an important story about how our political leaders and elected officials think about the voters.

I was the only candidate of the top five who was opposed to Measure H.

I questioned the survey process which was used to approve the Measure H to be placed on the ballet.

I thought the public should know who was the driving force behind this measure.....All Five members of the College Board, plus others in education.

They set the figure $564,000,000 base on the survey not what was needed.

Web Link

Now would be an excellent time to look at the Committee.

again Almanac, Thank You for the story


Posted by Realist, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Dec 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Go to the website and review the board - the thing that stands out is how long each of the board members have been in office, the "newest" coming up on nine years. Time for new leadership!!!


Posted by Jon Castor, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Dec 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Jon Castor is a registered user.

I also want to thank Dave Boyce and the Almanac for doing this story. Great example of why we need local journalism. Moved me to search out the link to support the 'paper'. (It doesn't always appear on the home page.) If you're interested, you can find it here: Web Link


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Realist says, "Go to the website and review the board - the thing that stands out is how long each of the board members have been in office, the "newest" coming up on nine years. Time for new leadership!!!

Two members are here because they did not win recent elections.

Dave Mandelkern Treasure Tax Collector

Richard Holober Supervisor of San Mateo County

They are using this position as a stepping stone, and what would have happened if they got elected? What cost would the taxpayers have to pay for a special election or possibly two special elections.


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