NOTE: The following article describes an amazing case study for retaining the 2/3 majority for bond elections. With a 12% carefully selected voter turnout, 884 voters in March, 1997 passed a huge $250,000,000 school bond issue. Apparently this bond measure is the largest in the state for any school district, and this is a district of only 3,800 students! This incredible story is a bit long, but it is well worth reading.
It also leads me to another timely conclusion -- we need a limitation on how long a bond authorization is good for -- perhaps 5 years. This $250,000,000 measure effects any new or existing property (except Mello Rous, another interesting issue to be covered later) in this district for the next 100 years or more, and will drive some poor people out of their homes.
The San Ysidro Political Rape: Politics at Any Cost.
By Daniel L. Muoz
LA PRENSA newspaper, 14 March, 1997
1950 5th Ave. San Diego, CA
San Ysidro, a sleepy town nestled against the Tijuana-U.S. border, with 26,000 residents, is the kind of a town where Mexican families live without feeling that they have lost their culture and roots. Close your eyes for a moment in the heart of this community, and for a moment you are transported to the center of Colonia Libertad which is nestled on the sloping hills of Tijuana.
Traditions, culture and family are deeply entrenched hallmarks of the citizens that live in San Ysidro. Religion forms the centerpiece of their daily lives and their children are the altar-pieces before which they pray. As a rule, they are not materialistic and live happily with whatever the good Lord surrounds them with. They work hard as they have all their lives.
There is no shame for them in working hard.
Few of the parents had the opportunities to gain an education beyond the sixth grade. As a consequence they prize education for their children and see it as a necessary step for them to progress in American society. A commonly held trait is the deep abiding respect and trust of the "Professors," the teachers and administrators that they entrust their children to. They believe in them. Their children's future is in their hands. The San Ysidro School District along with the Monte Carmelo Catholic Church are the two staunch pillars of the community.
The recently held School Bond elections, however, has tested their faith in the San Ysidro School system, their educators and administrations. They now are questioning just whose interests they have foremost.
The Stealth Operation
The recently held Bond Election in San Ysidro passed. The passage of the $250,000,000 ($250 million) bond measure, PROP C, required a 2/3rds plurality of those voting in order to be approved. San Ysidro, according to the registrar of voters, has 7,180 registered voters. If they all voted, a 2/3rds majority would require that 4,787 voters approve the bond measure. Were there 7,180 voters at the polls on March 4, 1997? NO!
The official election results listed only 884 voters out of 7,180 voting YES, a count which included absentee voters. 144 voters voted NO on PROP C. The 2/3rd majority was reached 884 voters out of 7,180 laid a potential tax burden on every home, apartment, condo, and townhome owner in the San Ysidro school district area! Twelve percent of the entire REGISTERED VOTING POPULATION OF SAN Ysidro decided the outcome on PROP C!
In celebrating the obscene victory, Superintendent Julian Lopez, and Larry Remer, the consultant that showed the San Ysidro administrators and board trustees how to win while losing, crowed and bragged to the media over having received 86 percent of the vote. What they failed to address was the stealth campaign they ran which saw 87% of the voters left in the dark over the election.
To stop PROP C would have required 685 NO votes... But they weren't there. Only 144 voters voted NO.
La Prensa San Diego sent out its reporters to discover why no one came to vote. La Prensa asked Mr. Albert R. Garcia life long resident of San Ysidro, owner and President of Albert R Garcia & Associates, community leader and political activists.
L/P: Were you aware that a committee was secretly established by Superintendent Julian Lopez and Larry Remer, of the political consulting firm of The Primacy Group, to assure the passage of PROP C AND B?
Garcia: No, I wasn't nor was I ever contacted by them. I know Larry Remer, but, I haven't seen him in many years. I didn't know there was such a committee working on the bond issue. I really wasn't aware that a bond election was scheduled for March 4.
L/P: Where is your home located?
Garcia: My home is located on East Beyer Blvd near the central part of San Ysidro just two blocks from Beyer Elementary School.
L/P: Did you at any time receive any information regarding the upcoming bond election?
Garcia: I did not receive any flyers, notices, brochures, pamphlets nor were there any radio, television, in Spanish or English, informing us of the bond issues. The first indication I had that an election was to occur was when I received at my home, a flyer, a few days before the election, telling us to vote on March 4 and vote YES on the Bonds.
L/P: Were any of the neighborhoods where you have friends such as Barrio San Martin or Barrio Monte Carmel, where hundreds of home owners live informed talk to you and indicate that they had received any information or had been invited to community meetings or school forums on the $250 million dollar bond proposal?
Garcia: These are areas where private homes are located. It doesn't appear that any effort was made to inform them of the upcoming election. I have clients and friends from those areas that now tell me that they were totally uninformed about the school bond issue.
L/P: When did you receive your sample ballot?
Garcia: We received the sample ballot about two weeks before the election.
Garcia: To be truthful with you, I didn't pay any attention to it. I gave it little importance as it had not been a matter of public discussion. I voted YES by absentee ballot without noting just how large the amount being voted on was or who was going to end up paying for it.
L/P: Did anyone at any time in the preceding four months before the election come to your home or office and solicit your support on the bond proposal?
Garcia: I called the Superintendent's office and tried to talk with him about the bond proposal once it came to my attention. He never returned my calls.
L/P: Now that the election is over are you now more familiar with the school bond proposal?
Garcia: Yes, and now I can see that this bond is going to be a big problem to many private home owners who have little income. My major concern is that only around 900 people voted. We have thousands of people registered to vote in San Ysidro. It appears that there was a major effort to keep the election secret and the number of voters down.
L/P: We have received information that the only groups that the San Ysidro School district reached out to were the residents of public housing, HUD, Section 8 such as Villa Nueva.
Garcia: They probably also went to Villa Serena, which is next to Villa Nueva, together there are probably over a thousand apartments being rented to the very poor. There are another 600 subsidized apartments on the west side. They would probably not have to pay a single penny on the bond proposal. The entire burden will fall on those who have saved their money all their lives to finally own their own home.
L/P: What do you call a campaign where all the home owners who will end up paying enormous taxes for the next 25 years are ignored and only the poor, subsidized renters who live in Public housing and who will not be taxed are manipulated to support a proposal they little understand?
Garcia: A TOTAL RIP OFF OF THE HOME OWNERS that will have lasting repercussions.
Catholic Church Ignored
La Prensa communicated with Sister Margaret Castro, from St. Rita's Catholic Church. Sister Margaret and her family lived most of their lives in San Ysidro. Prior to her taking Holy Orders, Sister Margaret Castro was the chairwoman for the Chicano Federation in San Diego. She also spent three years with Mother Theresa in India caring for the poor and the sick.
L/P: Does your family still live in San Ysidro?
Sister Margaret: Yes, we have our family home on Coro-nado and Beyer.
L/P: When did your family receive information that PROP A AND C would be on the March 4 ballot?
Sister Margaret: We got one flyer about three weeks before the election. But, all it said was to vote yes on Prop A and C. The flyer didn't explain the ramifications of the vote or any other information. A few weeks before the election we received our sample ballots.
L/P: Did your family ever inform you whether anyone had contacted them at home, invited them to community meeting, or School meetings to discuss the School bond proposals?
Sister Margaret: No, we never heard from anyone.
L/P: Did anyone, from the Proposition A or C campaigns, the School Board Trustees or the Superintendent ever send you information explaining why $250,000,000 was required, who was going to be taxed or explain how your home taxes would be calculated?
Sister Margaret: We never received a single notice of any public meetings nor any information on PROP A or C.
L/P: In your opinion, do you feel that the San Ysidro schools needed such a large bond issue?
Sister Margaret: No, I don't. There aren't that many children in the school district or the area. 3,800 students don't require a $250,000,000 dollar bond issue.
L/P: What are your neighbors saying about the bond election now that the election is over with?
Sister Castro: Some of our neighbors said they didn't vote for it because of the amount asked for and concern over the increased taxes that would be levied on their homes.
L/P: As most of the MexicanAmerican community of San Ysidro is predominantly Catholic, it would appear that the Catholic churches in the area would have spoken out on the issue. As far as you know did they?
Sister Margaret: The bond election was a sleeping dog. It appears that Monte Carmelo and St. Jerome were not informed nor did they have any information on the election. Outreach through the Catholic churches would have provided a means of communicating with all the Catholics in the area. They also were shut out of the information loop.
L/P: Now that you know a little bit more about the way the elections were conducted what is your opinion of the whole process?
Sister Margaret: IT MAKES ME ANGRY. The homeowners were not notified. They did not receive any information on it. They were delibertly excluded by the school district. The people with a vested interest in the election controlled the election. People in San Ysidro are poor and hard working. I am sadden to see that people with money still oppress those that don't have any.
Stealth Campaign Even Excluded School Personnel
La Prensa San Diego communicated with Lorraine Ramirez, Labor Representative for CSEA and certainly some one who should have been made aware of the upcoming bond election.
L/P: Did your organization take an active part in the Bond election?
Ramirez: The bond elections was not highly publized. We were not made aware. The district held no meetings with CSEA on the issue. We were not advised or asked to participate. We asked Mr. Goad to meet with us and explain the situation. He at first refused. Not until near the end of the election did he come to see us.
L/P: If CSEA, who represents the employees of the district, was not part of the school campaign who was?
Ramirez: We found out part of the story. We know that Ernestine Jones, Jenny Romero, Luis Figueroa, Juan Levya in fact all the Board of Trustees were in on the cover-up. Councilman Vargas attended some of their secret meetings, as well as Admin Supt. Consuelo Hernandez, from the PTA, Raquel Moan, Alice Homines, PTA president, Andrea Skorepa, Superintendent Julian Lopez, Larry Remer. They were all involved in keeping the community in the dark over the school bonding proposal.
L/P: You believe there was a deliberate move by San Ysidro Administrators, Board Trustees as well as some PTA officials and community activists to keep the voting public from knowing the scope of the school funding bonds?
Ramirez: I know that they plotted to work Villa Nueva Apartments and other public housing units. They visited them, held meetings where an informant told me that they said: "Vote yes because you won't have to pay any money. It will be free money for the schools and your children"! It's clear that those in subsidized housing were the targets and everyone else would be ignored and kept in the dark.
Censorship Extended to Media
La Prensa San Diego was purposely avoided. No press released were ever sent, no phone calls were made, nor was the legal notice printed in La Prensa which would have alerted the public that a Bond Election would take place on the 4th of March. It was a deliberate effort to keep the largest circulating bilingual media from printing, for our readers in San Ysidro, information on the bond proposals. A name exists for those kinds of actions: CENSORSHIP. La Prensa along with the rest of the South Bay communities did not become aware of PROP A, B, OR C. UNTIL FEBRUARY 26TH. We had two days to attempt to discover why Sweetwater Union High, San Ysidro School District, and the South Bay Union all cooperated to run a stealth campaign on PROP A, B, C.
La Prensa San Diego in a short but spirited interview with Board Trustee Jean Romero was informed bluntly that: " the decision was made to not communicate, send press releases, or do anything to alert La Prensa San Diego. We feared that you would oppose the bond issue and it would lose."
La Prensa San Diego had only two days to analyze, investigate and sound the warning signal. The editorial decision was made to concentrate all our efforts on the monster proposition Prop A. The damage to property owners by passage of Prop A would be incalculable. We risked that San Ysidro and South Bay would vote YES on Prop A and Props B and C. If all three would win, those two small schools would be decimated and home owners would find it difficult to survive. If we could deny Sweetwater a victory on Prop A, then perhaps South Bay union could support Prop B, which was only for $8.5 million well within their ability to pay.
Our concentrated effort worked and PROP A WAS DEFEATED.
San Ysidro turned out to be the bigger problem. Their Board of Trustees and Superintendent got convinced by those that stood to gain the most to go for $250 million. . . which is 8 1/2 times the entire assessed valuation of the home property values. Legally the state only permits the value of bonds to exceed the total assessed valuation by 1 1/2 percent! San Ysidro will be in very serious troubles if it attempts to sell more than twelve million dollars in bonds without a large increase in assessed valuation of their residential properties.
Some of the residents of Public Housing i.e. Hud properties, subsidized housing were misled when informed that they would not have to pay higher taxes. The 120 unit Seaward Apartments is a for profit housing unit. Only 24 of the 120 units will be exempt from higher taxes as they are Section 236 housing. The owners can and probably pass along any tax increases to the other renters. Vista Terrace Hills, a 262 unit apartment house is also a for profit apartment house. However the residents are all Section 8 renters. Therefore, their rent cannot be raised. However, the owners can apply to HUD for an increase in subsidies to cover the increase in taxes. If that is granted HUD will have to increase their payments and those who file Federal income taxes will end up paying the bill. Of course if any Section 8 renters pay federal taxes they also will end up paying in the long run. Del Prado and Villanueva Apartments are Non-profit entities and therefore they cannot be taxed. The renters get a free ride.
Perhaps the way the campaigns were run is not illegal... but ethical??? Was civic virtue served? Absolutely not. Will the community have trust and faith in their school administrators and teachers? It is questionable. At was a gross manipulation of the voters and property owners of the South Bay area. The residents of San Ysidro should reevaluate their School Superintendent and current Board members and question the ethics of what they did.
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