January 26, 2008

Prop C Part 3: Valley School Gets No Fortuitousness

Valley School Portable Classrooms

 Originally, I had only planned to write 2 posts on Prop C.  But  after I saw the Jan 19th pro-Prop C  opinion piece in the SDUT  I knew I was going to have to respond to the comments about Valley School.
Valley Elementary, with 650 students and 100 preschoolers, is a prime example of "before." Built in 1980, it is languishing without more repair money. Garden Road Elementary is a good example of "after," an aging school with 500 students that was fortuitously high on the priority list because it was built in 1961.
At Valley Elementary, Principal Andrew Johnsen's students see not grass but sand bags in front of some rooms. There is no food preparation area so meal service makes the multipurpose room anything but. Fifteen tired modular buildings lack water (try teaching art class without water for cleanup) or modern heating and cooling systems. Third-grade teacher Marissa Ochoa made the county's top 10 list, despite a classroom where even a modest rain sends water streaming onto the shelving. Counselors are free of distractions when they give guidance -- they should be, they are housed in a windowless shed.

First of all, Valley School was  not built in 1980. It was built  in 1962, the same year as Poway High School, and a  year after Garden Rd.  But that didn't help Valley from being placed unfortuitously low on the district's priority list; at least 12 other schools, many less vintage than Valley, got their makeovers first.  

Second, Valley School did have a food preparation area in 1977. I know that because I was "room mother"  of my son's first grade class and I used Valley's ovens to bake cookies after the kids decorated them.  The ovens may have worked,  but the  heating system was already crapping out. Despite Mrs Parke's valiant efforts to warm her classroom with  space heaters, ever watchful that her young students didn't trip over them, 3 of the little ones succumbed to pneumonia that winter. Even back then, PUSD was notorious for deferring maintenance and letting things go to shit!

I am astonished that after passing a $198 million bond only 5 1/2 yrs ago, the district would have the gall to parade such  stunning examples of misappropriation and neglect in front of the media. I am particularly disgusted that the PUSD  school board would entertain the possibility of leasing Brent Wilkes' shiny blue, high tech building in the industrial park while kids were shivering in cold rooms with leaky roofs. How could they possibly choke down  food  at their  breakfast meetings with the superintendent, knowing that,  as they dined on the taxpayer's dime, counselors were meeting with Valley students in windowless sheds? 

My children were fortuitously in and out of Valley School before the mobile classroom era arrived. That whole  phenomenon started in the early 80s after some industry shill got the California legislature to require that all new school construction contain a hefty percentage of relocatable classrooms. Portables soon started popping up at existing school sites, the perfect, made-for-the-developer-solution to overcrowding.  At the time, the  Valley School community was still blissfully unaware of the changes that were on the horizon, changes that would begin when the Poway Redevelopment Agency, the biggest developer to ever ride  into town, was formed in 1983.

Redevelopment is a state program aimed at eliminating blight in urban areas. Poway's redevelopment area is huge- it's bigger than San Diego's.  Most of the land that Poway selected for their redevelopment area wasn't blighted or even urban, it was undeveloped vacant land.  That's because Poway would get to claim all of the property taxes on anything that got built in the redevelopment area. The only catch was that Poway was required to use 20% of that money for affordable housing.  

As you can imagine, other cities tried to get in on the redevelopment cash cow too. By 1990, redevelopment abuse was so out of control, that the  state passed a reform measure, AB1290. One of the stipulations of AB1290 was that redevelopment agencies had to give back some of the property tax they had siphoned off from other taxing entities like school districts and community college districts.  The money would "pass through" the redevelopment agencies and go directly to the school district- unless the school district and the agency had a pre-existing agreement. Before the new law was implemented, Poway  worked out just such an  agreement with PUSD whereby Poway would pay for the Poway Performing Arts Center, some multipurpose buildings and joint use sports fields and PUSD would forego the "pass-through". 

Instead of having a pot of money they could use  to mend Mrs. Ochoa's roof and fix countless other high priority problems that affect the safety and well being of our children, PUSD opted to let Poway Redevelopment Agency build sports fields and a Performing Arts Center.  

That's not the only bad decision PUSD and the Poway Redevelopment Agency colluded on. Every time the Poway Redevelopment Agency wanted to approve an affordable housing project, like Hillside Village or Parkview Terrace, they were required to ask PUSD if the project would have a negative impact on the schools. If PUSD found that there was a negative impact, the Poway Redevelopment Agency would have been required to mitigate that impact. 

Each and every time Poway asked, PUSD responded that there would be no negative impact; they gave Poway the green light to proceed.   Although I (and others) warned the city and PUSD about the impact to Valley School, our voices were ignored.

No school in Poway was more impacted by affordable housing construction than Valley. All of the first family housing projects were clustered near Valley School. As each project was finished, the ratio of Valley 's students who were poor increased. Today, almost half the Valley population receives free or reduced price lunches.  Yet Poway and PUSD worked out a strategy so that they could deny  that the overcrowding was  caused by affordable housing projects. 

Before Hillside was built, Poway hired a consultant, "Southwest Strategies" to try to make affordable housing more palatible to the community. In a Dec 15, 2004 memo,  Deborah Johnson (Poway Redevelopment Director) summarized a joint Poway-PUSD meeting that discussed a pamphlet that would eventually be produced by Southwest Strategies. 
POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT- Staff met with the superintendent, deputy superintendent and the director of planning for Poway Unified. The group agreed to jointly author and publish a pamphlet with information about local elementary schools and affordable housing developments. The pamphlet will conclude that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact local schools.
In April, 2005,  John Collins (PUSD Deputy Superintendent) responded to Ed Carboneau's CPRA request for information about that meeting.
Please be advised that Poway Unified School District is unaware of the matter to which you are referring.

While we have discussed the proposed affordable housing developments with staff from the City, our only discussion regarding the potential impact on district schools was related to the number of students generated from these various developments.
A second memo (Dec 15, 2004) by Ingrid Alverde, Poway's manager of housing programs also claims that the joint meeting was held and that PUSD had agreed to co-operate on a brochure claiming that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact schools.
The group agreed to collabratively develop an informational flyer/brochure presenting information about the affordable housing developments and the neighboring schools, concluding that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact schools. The piece could be jointly published and shared as information to interested community groups and parents associations.
Poway and PUSD decided to bamboozle us with a little propaganda.  We were supposed to believe that those 15 substandard trailers at Valley were filled with kids who did NOT come from the affordable housing projects.  Ah...right. At this meeting, Poway and PUSD went one step further.   They  settled on a  new "student generation" figure of 0.3 students from each MFA (multiple family apartment). 

Get it? PUSD would allow Poway to figure the impact on the schools was only 0.3 student per MFA. That is less than 1/3 of a student from every 3 or 4 bedroom apartment.  By comparison, in 1992 PUSD had actually counted the number of students living in various apartment complexes. The pupil yield in the Garden Apartments in Los Penasquitos was 0.813 students per unit; in Poway Villas, it was 0.617 students per unit.  The overall average (which also included the Leisure Life and Village Apartment complex in PQ) was 0.505. 

Just like that, the student generation figure dropped from 0.505 students per MFA to 0.3 per MFA. PUSD officials have told me that they do not even have a way to verify if their current number (0.3) is accurate. So, just like that, 15 substandard trailers are now the taxpayers' problem and not the Poway Redevelopment Agency's problem.

I am voting  NO on Prop C.  I care about kids. I want PUSD to start telling the Poway Redevelopment Agency that the voters aren't going to put up with this anymore. If the redevelopment agency wants to build more shopping centers and affordable housing projects, then they are going to have to pay for the impact on our schools. The kids deserve it. 

January 25, 2008

Prop C - Part 2: The Developers are Cheering For It

         ADCS building in the Poway Industrial Park

In my last post, I noted that Proposition C is an entirely new bond proposal for $179 million that will  increase taxes for the next 35-40 yrs for property owners living in the PSID part of PUSD.  And even if Prop C passes, your kids might still be stuck in portable classrooms.

In this post I want to talk a bit about who is pushing  Prop C and what they have to gain from it.  Let's start with the San Diego County Taxpayer Association (SDCTA), a group that enthusiastically endorsed Prop C.  On SDCTA's webpage  they define themselves as a  "nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting accountable, cost-effective government, yadda, yadda, yadda..." But check out their board of directors. They are a bunch of real-estate moguls, developers, industry folks and partisan hacks.   Tom Shepard is a major political consultant.  And there is Eric G. Stenman who works for Douglas E. Barnhart, Inc- who just happens to be the builder  who is building and renovating all of our Poway schools. No conflict of interest there. No siree. 

And let's see, there's Alan Zieghaus from Southwest Strategies. Southwest Strategies is a consulting agency hired by Poway Redevelopment Agency to get Powegians to like  affordable housing.  And then there's a couple of people from The Corky McMillan Cos and Burnham Real Estate, two big companies that are heavily involved in developing our industrial park. And George W. Hawkins. He is  on the Prop U oversight committee (you know the one that didn't oversee Prop U too well).  Hawkins also happens to be president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego.  So when SDCTA gave their endorsement, you just know they are very concerned about the Poway taxpayers and not thinking at all about how much money will be flowing to their  back pockets if this bond passes.

SDCTA is not the only group pushing the proposition. Friends of Poway Unified Schools- Yes on C , the group that is sending us flyers falsely claiming that Prop C will not raise our existing tax rate, is being funded by the usual suspects- the bond underwriter (Stone & Youngberg), subcontractors and  project management companies. 

The Barnhart Group won the contract for the Prop U renovations. Barnhart also built the Poway Performing Arts Center and the new city hall. Our old city hall wasn't very old, and it had been recently renovated, but the city said it would be cheaper to build a new city hall. And maybe it would have, if construction costs hadn't skyrocketed. Who could have predicted it? Hmmmm....sound familiar?

Douglas E. Barnhart is well known in both construction and political circles. He is a major GOP donor who gave $140,900 to Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2003 campaign.  Schwarzenegger rewarded Barnhart and another generous donor, Brent Wilkes with appointments to the Del Mar Fair Board. Douglas Barnhart and Brent Wilkes' wife Regina were both also appointed to PUSD Foundation Board.  In 2003, Barnhart and Wilkes were also gifting Poway mayor Mickey Cafagna.
Cafagna reported receiving gifts, such as greens fees and tickets for games and performances, from donors including Douglas Barnhart, a San Diego-based contractor; ADCS Inc., a software company in the South Poway Business Park; and the San Diego Chargers.
ADCS is the company owned by Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor who is currently awaiting sentencing for bribing Duke Cunningham.  Last February, when Wilkes was facing a foreclosure sale on his ADCS building, he tried to transfer it to PUSD in a swap involving district land in Rancho Bernardo.  The PUSD board voted to allow district officials to negotiate the deal, but it fell through. Although Wilkes has sold the property,  there is still a possibility that PUSD might be interested. I asked PUSD school board member Todd Gutshow if the district could use Prop C funds to pay for building or leasing new district offices. Mr. Gutshow told me that Prop C money was only to be used for the schools that were listed in the bond measure.  But the measure states that the money can be used for  "school facilities" including the schools on the list.  The independent counsel analysis says
the money can be used for "construction, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of school facilities that benefit the District, including the furnishing and equipping of school facilities, acquision or lease of real property for school facilities and construction management by personnel of the Poway Unified School District.
Mr. Gutshow told me he would go back to the district and ask them about whether or not PUSD could legally use the bond money for new district offices or to lease the ADCS building.  Our conversation was about 10 days ago. I am still waiting to hear from him. 

I have no way of knowing what Brent Wilkes or Douglas Barnhart or  Mickey Cafagna talk about when they are on the links together or cozying up to each other at a sporting event. But I can guess.


January 12, 2008

Prop C - Part I: It's Just $179 Million More

"You may fool all of the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all..."

Yeah, I am sure you all know the rest of Abe Lincoln's quote.  

Would you be surprised if I said some local politicians may be trying to fool us again?

That's what I thought.

My absentee voter ballot came a few days ago in the mail. Along with it, I received a few mailed pieces for Prop C, the school bond. The mailers promise that Prop C will NOT increase my existing tax rate.  It simply extends the current rate for an additional 11 years.  So they say.

I did not get a copy of Prop C with my voter ballot. So I headed on over to the San Diego County registrar's official site to take a look at what Prop C is all about.  According to the impartial analysis of the county counsel, if 55% of the voters pass Prop C,  we have authorized the SFID (School Facilities Improvement District) of PUSD to issue and sell  up to $179 million in general obligation bonds. They can sell them for up to 12 % interest and they have to be paid back in 25 yrs (if issued pursuant to the Education Code) or 4o yrs (if issued pursuant to the Government Code).

Prop C doesn't extend Prop U for an additional 11 yrs.  It is a totally new, separate bond approval. And there is no guarantee that the current tax rate won't go up. In fact, it likely will go up. The current rate is $45/$100K of assessed valuation. But the SFID (more about the SFID downthread) hasn't  issued all of the bonds already approved under Prop U.  (I know they said they ran out of money, but that is not exactly true.)  When they issue more bonds (probably later this year) the tax rate will probably jump  to $55/$100K. That was the estimated maximum tax rate on Prop U.  Likewise it is the estimated maximum tax rate on Prop C.

That's an estimation, not a guarantee. It is an estimation based on expected increases in assessed valuation in the SFID.  So, if there was a disaster that destroyed a lot of highly assessed property (e.g. a big fire) or if there was a big real estate bust and some folks in the SFIP had their property tax reassessed downward, then  it might cost the rest of us more to pay back the bonds.  To be fair, Prop C does say it is the intent of the district to keep the rate stable. But if they can't and we have approved the bonds, we are stuck paying the higher rate.

One of my chief objections to Prop C is that all of us in PUSD are not in this together. The SFID excludes any PUSD area property that is in a Mello Roos district.  The people who own homes in a Mello Roos district pay special fees to finance the schools that were built in their developments. That money can only go toward those schools.  

 The SFID is like a Mello Roos for the old timers in PUSD- with a couple of differences.  Mello Roos districts usually last 20-25 yrs.  Prop C could go for 25-40 yrs after the last bond is issued and we old timers could be paying them off long after the Mello Roosers have finished.  And while the Mello Roos fees can only go to new schools in those areas, Prop U & C can pay for improvements at any school in the district,  new or leased district offices and new or improved support facilities.  Why shouldn't everyone pay for the new district offices?

I plan to write  a second part to this blog and include a little information on who it is that is pushing this proposition and what they have to gain from it. But before I sign off, I'd like to call your attention to the picture at the top of the blog. Those are some of the portable classrooms at Valley School. There is nothing in Prop C (or Prop U) that says PUSD plans to get rid of those portables if you approve the bond. At best, the district says they plan to replace any portables that are older than 25 yrs.  My kids went to Valley School in the 70s and 80s. They had real classrooms. Now, as a consequence of steps taken to wipe out blight, the Poway Redevelopment Agency has added a lot of students to Valley School. There are rows of these blighty looking   portables on the south side of the campus. We have passed several school bonds since my kids went to Valley, and yet, the number of portables there just keeps growing.