Why “Measure S” in San Carlos is not a slam-dunk…

October 28, 2008



I try to avoid political commentary on this blog, simply because there are already hundreds of political blogs out there that cover the popular political topics quite sufficiently, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a political expert.   But here I am chiming in on Measure S, aka the “San Carlos School District Excellence in Education Act of 2008,”  but not because of the merits or deficiencies of the Measure.  I wanted to highlight some unique challenges I think this Measure will face come Election Day.

Between the direct mail pieces, door hangers, and their Yes On S website,  the supporters of Measure S have done a marvelous job getting the word out to the public.   If there is any organized opposition to this measure, I sure haven't seen it.    So with such a worthy cause at stake, and with so many people backing it, it should be a “slam-dunk” come Election Day, right?   After all, it's only about $7 more per month than we're already paying for Measure D (the previous school funding measure.)

Not so fast…

When I first read the outline of Measure S, I was struck by its similarity to another recent ballot measure that looked like a slam-dunk, but ultimately just got slammed:   The San Carlos Fire Parcel Assessment of 2006.    If you recall, homeowners were asked to pony up an additional $99/year to avoid layoffs, equipment reductions, and possibly station shutdowns.  Considering that the Fire Department is the first responder to virtually ALL medical emergencies, this seemed like a no-brainer.  Whether you're young or old, having a fully-staffed station with a paramedic on call just around the corner is definitely peace of mind.   But this Measure failed miserably just two years ago, and the similarities between this Measure and Measure S are too many to ignore.

The lessons learned from the failure of the Fire Parcel Tax should serve as the 3 biggest challenges facing Measure S:

  1. The Economy.   We're in far worse shape today than we were two years ago when the Fire Parcel Tax was decided.  Even though it's “only” $75 per year (or $7/month) more than the $109 that homeowners are currently paying annually under Measure D,  the idea of increased taxation is a tough sell when many are struggling to get by.   Short-term fear often clouds long-term rationality.
  2. Not everyone in San Carlos has school-age children.   Unlike the Fire Parcel where everyone is impacted by reduced fire service, Measure S is far more important to those families with school age children, which is still very much a minority of the population in San Carlos.   The Measure is includes a “Senior Citizen Exemption” which was a very smart thing to do, but the success of this Measure lies in getting the YES vote from those families who aren't involved in the public school system.
  3. 2/3 Majority Required.  Although I think this election will see record turn-out, voter apathy will be an enemy for this Measure.   People will typically take the time to vote when they are either a) passionately for, or b) passionately against something on the ballot.   This isn't a “don't care” Measure — if people don't want to pay the additional $75/year, you can bet they'll vote against it.  Getting a simple 50% majority is tough enough — corralling the required 2/3 will be a big challenge.

For the record, we have 3 children in the public school system here, and I firmly believe the additional funding that has been provided to the schools has made a tangible and positive impact on their education.  I am also a board member of the Sequoia High School Education Foundation, so I know how first-hand how much our schools rely on additional public funding.

So for the first time in many years, I believe this will be an election where EVERY vote counts, regardless of whether it's for Measure S or the Presidential nomination.   Consequently, it's vital to avoid the “Chris Daughtry Syndrome,”  for those of you who watch American Idol.  This guy was easily the top talent of his respective season, but his voting fans got complacent since they figured victory was “in the bag.”   Needless to say, he didn't even make the finals.  A lame analogy?  Not really — stats show that more people vote in American Idol than will vote in a presidential election.

So this year whatever your cause happens to be, GET OUT AND VOTE!!!!   And now, I'm putting the soap-box away….


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  1. transient on October 28, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    One more thing – those property owners who are paying property taxes based on market value (or something close) will be reluctant to add to the subsidy given to those whose property taxes are greatly limited by Prop 13. Like you mentioned, this is not a universal need for all residents, so those who need it most should pay for it directly through fundraisers.

  2. chuck on October 29, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Here’s a comment that I received via email from a blog reader. They allowed me to post it in the comment section:

    “I will tell you why I won’t vote in favor of measure S. We don’t and will never have children in the public school system. San Carlos is an affluent community. Regardless of the economy, asking me to pay additional money over and above what I already pay is unfair. When will cities like San Carlos open their eyes and realize what everyone needs to understand? We all need to do more with less. I have not had a raise in 5 years and understand that times are tough and there is competition for my job. If the schools so desperately need more money that is not available through public funds, then the PARENTS, yes the direct recipients of free public education, need to pony up, plain and simple. Why are senior citizens exempt from this measure? Many are living in 1 million + homes and paying next to no property taxes because of another unfair ballot initiative, prop 13. Many of them, my mother included, can well afford to pay more taxes, but no one wants to ask them for it. Why not? They should have been saving up a boatload of cash paying 10% of the property taxes we pay. I had to work my way up to own my home here and I would like to retire some day. Maybe when the economy turns around again, the schools will manage their money better and will try to operate within their means.

    No one will look out for me when I retire so I will plan accordingly and not expect my community to pick up the tab for my poor planning if I fall short.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent.”

  3. Fred on October 31, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    On the emailed comment above (#2): My response to this is, “What is the value to a San Carlos resident of having a good school system?” Is it worth, ~$200 a year? While I am sure it’s not a scientific comparison – what is the difference in home values between RWC and San Carlos, and how much can this be attributed to all the schools in San Carlos being above average? I would think that if you want your house to increase in value in the coming years one of the best investments you can do it is spend the equivalent of less then a dollar a day on good schools.

    That is the value comment, the other comment is what is the value to the community of having well educated neighbors and children (even if they are not yours) educated with all the resources I am sure you had when you were in school – Art, PE, Books, etc. Again I think Prop. S seems cheap for the benefit to EVERYONE in San Carlos.

  4. SC resident on November 3, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I agree with Fred. If you look at the price of homes even in San Carlos which are in the Redwood City School District (Alden Manor?) they are lower then home prices in the San Carlos School District. In the Bay Area, with a few exceptions, home prices are tied to the quality of the school system. The reason Palo Alto real estate has had its value through the current downturn is due to the strong schools. By the way, Palo Alto has a parcel tax of $493. $200 is a small price to pay to maintain our home values.

  5. SC Resident on November 5, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    In response to #2 Chuck, paying parcel tax to support the schools does affect you whether or not you have children in the system. These people that go to our schools will someday be your neighbor, your doctor, your police officer, your banker, your post man. If you don’t invest in these young people growing up in your neighborhood, then you will not have quality people living by you, serving you when you get old. I hope that when you retire and are still living in the city that those people are resilient and have turned out to be productive citizens, because if we don’t educate these people, we will have a neighborhood full of people who did not receive proper education and let’s hope that these people don’t end up sleeping on the street in front of your house. Let’s hope that when you need a doctor when you get old that these people have had the proper education and can take care of you when you need it. Believe or not, parcel tax for schools do affect you!

  6. Disappointed SC Resident on November 6, 2008 at 4:08 am

    I’m very disappointed that S didn’t pass. A great school district is one of the key reasons why people want to live in San Carlos. It’s also sad that just 2 out of the 22 school measures failed to pass yesterday (San Carlos and Oakland). I’m frankly shocked that such a great town as San Carlos couldn’t get behind a fairly modest $75/parcel increase, which was less than other city measures. We’re very lucky that our property values have stayed as strong as they have in this economy and a key reason for this are our schools. Just look at Los Altos, Palo Alto, and other towns with great schools to know this is true. For those without kids in schools, maybe this canbe a good reason for them to get behind school measures the next time they show up on the ballot.

  7. School Supporter on November 6, 2008 at 7:57 am

    3 issues prevented Measure S from passing:

    – No sunset provision
    – Cost overruns and mis-management in previous bonds
    – At least 4 elementary school bond measures in 10 years

    If the first 2 items were addressed better, this would have passed with flying colors.

  8. chuck on November 6, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Technically, this Measure has not been officially decided yet. According to the Redwood City Daily News, there are still over 90,000 absentee and provisional ballots (from all of San Mateo County) that have yet to be counted. Obviously only a fraction of these will be from San Carlos, but with less than a 1% difference between victory and defeat, it will be important to account for every vote before an official determination is made.

  9. Newish San Carlan on November 7, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    My family is a perfect example of how and why SC real estate prices remain relatively stable while other surrounding areas fare worse. We moved from San Francisco a year and a half ago and our first priority was and continues to be schools. We did not consider RWC for example, due to the school system. I am deeply disappointed that S did not pass. I am also worried, I have quickly grown to LOVE San Carlos. I see myself here for the long, long term. This is a city with a soul. I don’t want to leave, but if the community cannot support the schools ..eventually I will be forced to do so. My children are my first priority.
    Strong schools support property values, strong schools create strong communities. Those of us invested in our schools and children have enormous incentive to work hard for the city and keep this a town with an excellent quality of life.

  10. chuck on November 7, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    NSC —

    First of all, welcome to San Carlos. The reasons you chose to settle here are shared by many others. As you correctly stated, these are the reasons why the demand has remained healthy, and the home prices have remained far more stable than other areas.

    If Measure S ultimately fails (note they have not counted the absentee and provisional ballots yet) it won’t spell the demise of the San Carlos school system. Fund-raising will need to shift from parcel tax to private donations, and organizations like the SCEF will play a much bigger role than they already do. It’s fortunate that this organization is already well established and effective, because they will be needed to make up difference once Measure D funds expire. Also look for corporate donations to be far more vital to the cause.

    So don’t pack up and move yet! I’m confident that the citizens of San Carlos will make it happen. They have always come through in the past when something important was on the line.

    Thanks for your comments,


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