Wait, How Much Was That Again?

Assessing California’s pricey propositions

By Justin Chapman, Berkeley Political Review, Winter 2008-09

On November 4th, when Californians went to the polls in record numbers to elect the first African-American President of the United States, they also weighed in on a dozen state ballot measures with wide ranging political and financial implications. While several propositions will result in revenue loss for the state of California, some of the measures that were approved by voters, including 1A, 3, and 12, are expected to cost the state a total of $23.2 billion over the next thirty years. These pricey propositions will be funded by the sale of tried and true government bonds, however, amidst the current economic crisis nothing is certain.

Recently investors have avoided bonds that state and city governments sell to pay for basic services like road repair and library construction. Analysis are hopeful that the situation will change. In order to fund Props 1A, 3, and 12, California will be required to sell billions in new bonds. Their ability to do so will be contingent upon the state of the bond market over the next few years. Analysts at the state Legislative Analyst Office in Sacramento say they are not too worried about covering the costs of the bonds.

Eric Thronson, an analyst specializing in Prop 1A, which will establish a high speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area, admits they weren't sure what they were going to do, but added that money has been appropriated through the Public Transportation Account. He noted that the project is expected to take twelve years and since the bonds will not be sold for at least one to two years, the adverse effects on the state will be small.

However, Prop 1A's financial needs will continue even after its construction as the state expects to spend more than $1 billion a year to operate and maintain the train system. According to Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office, the costs would be "at least partially, and potentially fully, offset by passenger fare revenues, depending on ridership."

Prop 3, another bond act, will also need a year or two to sell bonds totaling $2 billion, according to analyst Farra Bracht. She noted that there is still money left over from Prop 61, which was approved by voters in 2004, and that some of those funds will be appropriated to help cover the costs of Prop 3. The rest will be repaid from the state's General Fund to fund the construction, expansion, renovation, and furnishing of children's hospitals, with 80 percent of bond proceeds going to hospitals that focus on leukemia, cancer, heart defects, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis. The other 20 percent will go to University of California general acute care hospitals.

Analyst Shawn Martin said there is an 80 year history of bonds being paid on time at the correct interest rate, so he is confident "there will be a market for bonds," though he added that it depends on how the bond market performs over the next two years. Prop 12, which will provide loans to California veterans to purchase farms and homes, will cost about $1.8 billion which will be appropriated from the state General Fund if loan payments from participating veterans are insufficient to cover the cost of the bonds.

Meanwhile, other approved measures may result in a decrease in state and local tax revenues. An example would be Prop 2, which requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined with enough room to fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. The Secretary of State's office estimates the decrease to be in the range of several million dollars annually. There may also be minor state and local enforcement and prosecution costs, but these will be partly offset by increased fine revenue.

Infamous Prop 8, which eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry, will result in revenue loss from sales taxes over the next few years totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. Prop 9, which addresses victim's rights and new provisions for input during bail, pleas, sentencing, and parole, may cost the state future savings on prison operations and increased county jail operating costs that collectively amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. This is due to restricting the early release of inmates to reduce facility overcrowding.

This proposition cycle witnessed the passage of measures that require exorbitant funding while rejecting some that could have potentially generated increased state revenues. Despite a global financial crisis and massive state budget cuts, voters approved measures that will financially burden the state, undercutting the notion that voters vote with their pocketbooks.




Drastic Times Call for Bipartisan Measures

Why the candidates should emulate Lincoln when it comes to choosing a cabinet

By Justin Chapman, Berkeley Political Review, Fall 2008

Few presidents in the course of American history have been as divisive and partisan as the one we have had to endure the past eight years. Single party rule for six of the last eight years has proved disastrous. Americans are extremely dissatisfied with the performance of their government. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted the first week of October, 74 percent of the public disapproves of the job the current administration is doing.

In order to wean the country from the partisan bickering and exclusive governance under George W. Bush, the next president of the United States, whether it be John McCain or Barack Obama, should assemble a cabinet of the most capable and knowledgeable men and women without regard to political party.

Modern presidential cabinets have consisted mostly of the president's party with few exceptions. In that environment there is very little incentive to consider outside ideas. Bill Clinton had on Republican, former Senator William Cohen, as Bush II had one Democrat, California congressman Norman Mineta. While some past presidents have picked rival party members for cabinet positions, no modern president has put together a cabinet consisting of several members from both major parties, let alone third party candidates.

During the Great Depression, England's J. Ramsay MacDonald assembled a cabinet called the Government of Cooperation, which included four Conservatives, four Laborites, and four Liberals, with a goal "to deal with the national emergency that now exists." If this current economic recession is not a national emergency, then I don't know what is. Perhaps the next president should learn from MacDonald's example.

Another example of bipartisan cooperation occurred on U.S. soil. President Lincoln's efforts to preserve the union started with his efforts to build a multi-partisan cabinet. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin detailed President Lincoln's famously unusual cabinet in her book Team of Rivals. Made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Whigs, its chief members were Lincoln's presidential primary opponents, still bitter about their defeat but willing to sacrifice pride to save the union. Lincoln shrewdly understood that he had to put aside personal and political differences in order to solve the country's crisis.

Of his bipartisan cabinet, Lincoln told the Chicago Tribune: "We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services."

Both McCain and Obama are intelligent, confident, and independent leaders. Both have, at times, promised bipartisanship.

During the primary season, Obama expressed his intention to appoint Republicans to his cabinet, such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

During an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" on September 7, McCain said he would give Democrats vital roles in his cabinet, but he did not go into detail about how many or for what positions.

"The way you restore [confidence in government] is obviously to have a very bipartisan approach," he said.

Stephen Buel, editor of the alternative newsweekly East Bay Express, would like to see this happen. He named both Hagel and Lugar as good choices for an Obama administration, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a good choice for either administration.

Jim Eyer, an Alameda County Libertarian running for Congress in California's 9th District, does not believe a bipartisan cabinet would be going far enough. He would like to see Greens and Libertarians in the next president's cabinet.

"Having only two prominent political parties does not serve us well. There are several reasons, including too little competition, too much going along to get along, and too much power for party organizations," he said.

Immediate former chairman of the California Republican Party, Duf Sundheim, pointed out that the founding fathers did not anticipate the development of political parties and noted that third parties have played an important role in the past and will again in the future.

Whether bipartisan or multi-partisan, the best minds in the country must craft multi-faceted solutions through serious discussion to address the crises facing our nation today. The next president should assemble a bipartisan or multi-partisan cabinet not to proclaim that they are reaching across the aisle, but because the problems and threats facing the United States, as well as the damage inflicted by the partisanship of the Bush administration, demand it. There is too much at stake to pursue single-minded agendas. Beyond that, the American people deserve better.

Only time will tell for certain how if either candidate will actually include members from the opposition party in their cabinet. If the growing number of self-described Independents is any indication, Americans want to see Democrats and Republicans working together cooperatively in the best interests of the people they are elected to represent, which is their job after all.




Conflict of opinion

by Andre Coleman, Pasadena Weekly, June 26, 2008

As new members were voted onto the Altadena Town Council on Saturday, questions were being asked about possible conflicts of interest by sitting ATC members who received money from the Pasadena Unified School District.

On Tuesday, prior to being voted off the Town Council, then-Chair George Lewis called for the formation of an ethics committee to investigate possible conflicts of interest accusations against Keith “Sarge” Gibbs and Michele Zack, who were already Town Council members and not up
for re-election.

Over the past year, the district has awarded Gibbs and Zack almost $20,000. Gibbs runs a boot camp-style program for students and received $15,800 in 2007. Zack has served as a local history specialist and grant writer for PUSD and last year received two checks, each for $9,999.
Both Gibbs and Zack strongly deny any possible conflicts of interest, saying they were paid for performing services for the district, but that payment did not influence their votes on
any issues.

Town Council members represent citizens in the small unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, but have no law-making or spending powers. Rather, the ATC serves as an advisory board to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Gibbs is the chairman of the Town Council’s education committee and runs training, intervention and leadership programs at PUSD schools.

The education committee was revived two years ago by then-Town Councilman Justin Chapman, the council’s youngest member and a freelance writer for the Pasadena Weekly who no longer serves on the council and now attends UC Berkeley.

At that time, many members of the ATC were critical of the PUSD’s decision to close four schools in Altadena without first getting input from residents.

Altadena residents began circulating petitions to collect enough signatures to require a feasibility study needed to begin the process of starting a school district. But the drive came to a halt late last year due to infighting among petitioners.

Zack voted in favor of the feasibility study petition, and Gibbs was not on the council at that time. Gibbs, who was featured prominently in a July 12 Pasadena Weekly story about his program at John Muir High School titled “Back to Basics,” was elected to the council two years ago. He has chaired its education committee for about two months.

Gibbs owns and operates Sarge’s Physical Training, a military-style fitness program that helps PUSD children through better nutrition and more exercise.

Lewis, who was replaced on the Town Council Saturday by Ruth Nielen Edwards, said that the accusations of receiving money from the PUSD were not the most important issue. The heart of the matter is maintaining transparency in government.

“I think in the end it will be shown no one is corrupt, but transparency did not take place and that is why you do need an ethics committee,” he said.

Lewis and three other incumbents were sent packing by voters on Saturday. In other races, Okorie Ezieme defeated Mabel Duncan, Alice Wessen beat out Walter Olszewski, and Tecumseh Shackelford won out over Bobby Thompson.

Lewis said the ethics committee, if approved, would be chaired by NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown.

Gibbs told the Weekly there was no conflict of interest on his part. In fact, Gibbs said he was appointed chair of the education committee precisely because of his business relationship with the PUSD.

“They appointed me based on the work I was doing with the schools.” Gibbs said. “What better person to be on that committee? I was doing this program prior to joining the council. How can it be a conflict of interest working with the school district when everything I do on the Town Council is free of charge?”

Schools critic Rene Amy said this latest controversy is just another in a long line of questions about how the district spends money.

“It’s just another example of how the district can quietly generate support by slathering taxpayer money around the community,” Amy said. “It also gives support to the notion that everyone would benefit if the district opened up its books and posted all of its payments online.”

School districts in San Antonio and Dallas have begun posting their check registries online. That way citizens can see how school officials spend taxpayer funds, Amy said.

When contacted by the Weekly, Zack said she announced her dealings with the PUSD at a Town Council meeting after the district received a $1 million federal grant from a proposal she wrote.

“My fee comes out of the federal grant,” Zack explained. “I bring money into the district. Whatever I am paid does not come out of the diminishing amount the PUSD and the other districts receive from Sacramento, and I don’t sit on the education committee. I would challenge anyone to come up with any vote that presented me with an ethical conflict of interest. There hasn’t been any.” 

Editor’s note: A cousin of reporter André Coleman is employed by Sarge’s Physical Training.

Two sides of the same coin

Factions fight over struggling petition drives to form an Altadena school district

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/24/2008

As the youngest person ever elected to the Altadena Town Council, I felt I had an obligation to help my unincorporated community have a say in decisions that affect its children.

Frankly, Altadena public schools have always gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to decisions made by the Pasadena Unified School District. And very few people were doing anything to improve the situation until I came along.

I believe that’s why I received the unanimous support of the Town Council to reconstitute that 16-member advisory body’s Education Committee shortly before Christmas 2005 — ironically the same night that the PUSD Board of Education voted to close four elementary schools, three in Altadena.

The original purpose for my committee, to quote its chartering document, was to “explore the desirability and possibility of recommending that the Town Council start a petition process to secede from PUSD,” creating an Altadena Unified School District.

That sounds simple enough. But today the drive to form a new district is anything but easy, with the secession effort now split between two camps and virtually no further ahead today than it was when it started more than two years ago.

As chairman of the Education Committee, and later as a regular member, I personally drafted several resolutions outlining what the Altadena community wanted for its schools and surplus properties, which was to keep them intact for future educational uses, as opposed to leasing or selling the properties to the highest bidder. These resolutions represented the general consensus of the community and received unanimous support from both the Education Committee and the Town Council.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents Altadena, also sent letters to PUSD supporting our efforts. But, as usual, the community’s wants and needs were ignored by the school board.

The proof of that is in their voting record, such as the one to close the four elementary schools. The same was true about the appointment of members to a special board formed to decide the fate of the district’s recently designated surplus properties.

Less than three weeks after the creation of my committee, three Altadena residents — Bruce Wasson, Maurice Morse and Shirlee Smith, with the help of lawyer and longtime schools watchdog Rene Amy — filed a petition with the county to get a secession movement under way. They became the three chief petitioners. However, Morse, a retired PUSD teacher, and Smith, a newspaper columnist and parent, have both publicly stated that they want to be attached to the petition in name only, and want nothing to do with day-to-day operations.

Although it was legal for them to file the petition, it effectively thwarted efforts by the Education Committee to do the same at that time, mainly because Antonovich made it clear that he wanted a single unified petition effort to be conducted.

Throughout 2006 the AUSD Steering Committee, its volunteers and the chief petitioners gathered about 2,500 signatures out of their goal of 7,000, the county’s requirement of 25 percent of registered Altadena voters.

In November of that year, though, signature gathering came to an almost complete standstill, mainly because chief petitioner Wasson decided not to store completed petitions at the agreed-upon safe house, the Altadena Sheriff’s Station. Wasson cut off communication with many volunteers who dedicated that year to helping the AUSD effort, people who collected the majority of signatures.

According to Jerry Rhoads, former Education Committee member and co-founder of the AUSD Steering Committee, one of the main complaints that the excluded volunteers had with Wasson’s petition effort were that it was increasingly becoming less transparent and accountable.

Since the schism in November 2006, 363 additional signatures have been collected, according to Wasson’s Web site, www.altadenaschools.net, bringing the total to 2,586 signatures on petitions that have returned with completed affidavits.

At that rate, Altadena will never see a county feasibility study done. Perhaps that is why Rhoads said Wasson called him in November to “make peace” and try again. Rhoads said he told Wasson at that time to make amends with all the volunteers who collected the majority of the signatures, including Town Council member Steve Lamb, Monica Watts, Walter and Bo Olszewski, and myself. But Wasson apparently chose not to do that.

Wasson did not respond to several calls and emails seeking comment. However, in a recent post to the Yahoo email listserv pasadenaschools, Wasson appeared to still support efforts to break from the district.

In the post, commenting on management changes proposed by PUSD Superintendent Edwin Diaz, Wasson also wrote about the AUSD petition drive.

“If you are like this PUSD parent of 13 years, dozens of concerned volunteers, and thousands of Altadena voters who have said they’re done with putting our whole trust in PUSD administrations staffed by those who have never come close to closing the academic achievement gap, then please join the many volunteers in Altadena on Tuesday, February 5 who will be petitioning for a school district organized around the practices that are known to result in closing the academic achievement gap and in bringing all of our students to 100 percent grade-level proficiency in a few short years. If you are interested in helping us on Tuesday, February 5, then please click ‘Get Involved’ at 
www.altadenaschools.net.

“And since voter education is so vital to our effort to create a school district that will really close the gap as opposed to just becoming a small version of PUSD in Altadena,” the post continues, “then please also let us know which of our two kickoff celebrations and petitioner’s package
handouts you can attend: 1) Saturday, January 26, from 2-4 p.m., or 2) Sunday, February 3, from 2-4 p.m.”

On April 30, Lamb and I filed a second AUSD petition with the county, with the two of us serving as chief petitioners. We chose not to initiate an extensive signature-gathering campaign at the time because it would have meant starting over from scratch and losing those 2,500 signatures that 
Wasson is apparently holding somewhere.

However, now that it is clear Wasson is continuing his petition movement without making amends with his former volunteers, it is time to move forward with this second AUSD petition effort.

There is no time limit in terms of gathering signatures, as long as each signature is considered valid by the county.

There will be 5,000 signatures left to go if Wasson eventually decides to make up with Lamb, Rhoads and others and rejoin our efforts.

“Those [signatures] are gettable, even if we have to start from scratch, but it will require some work and faith by the community that the AUSD will be a real democratic egalitarian institution,” said Lamb.

It’s important to remember that signing the petition will not automatically result in Altadena seceding from PUSD. The petition only makes the county do a feasibility study which will determine what will happen to PUSD if another district is formed.

If PUSD would be harmed in any way by the formation of an AUSD, the petition would be denied.

So why not sign the petition? What do any of us — Altadena, Pasadena, and especially PUSD — have to lose from a feasibility study? The answer: Nothing.

Such a study would merely provide critical information that the community needs, whether or not an AUSD is formed.

The study would not be a management audit. Rather, it would focus on the fiscal condition of the school district as it relates to the unification of a new district. The study would also provide insights into AUSD’s possible demographics, as well as the number of students expected to attend each of the new district’s schools, which, with the state paying roughly $7,500 a year per student, would be the main source of operating revenue.

After that, a draft report will be presented, community meetings will be held and a vote will be taken by the county Board of Education either to deny the petition or approve it. From there, the proposal will be sent to Sacramento, where the state Board of Education will decide whether to proceed. If it does, either Altadena residents or voters district-wide will vote on the matter in the next general election.

In the end, if things get that far, the matter will come back before Altadenans for the final decision.

To date, the AUSD effort is not formally supported by the Town Council. According to the official request for a county petition for the unification of an AUSD, written by Rhoads, Lamb, and myself, “We believe the unification of the Altadena Unified School District, which would create a district with more than 4,000 students, will provide Altadena students with the highest quality public school education in safe and secure facilities; reduce the distance Altadena students must travel in order to attend a public school; increase the sense of community identity within Altadena; improve the
efficiency and fiscal responsibility of school district management; and increase the voice of Altadenans in the governance of their public schools.

“We believe that this can be accomplished with an equitable distribution of property and facilities, and that unification will not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation or result in any substantial increase in costs to the state. We believe that all other requirements of California Education Code will be met through unification.”

The only way to find out if all these great things are true is through the completion of a county feasibility study.

My only request is for people who support the concept of an AUSD to take seriously both petition efforts and to sign whichever one they believe will be the one to get us the all-important study that is critical to the future academic success of Altadena’s children.