Normally the nomination and election of officers is about as interesting as watching paint dry. However, as we saw back in 2011 with the city council, when there is the lack of a clear script and an obvious answer, things get a bit more interesting.
So, to set things up, in the last nine months, four of the five people who sat on the DJUSD School Board on March 1, 2014, are gone. Alan Fernandes has been on the board since May, three had their first meeting on Friday, and Susan Lovenburg has served since 2007.
There were two obvious arrangements for the rotation of president and vice president. One would be to go strictly in order of seniority. That would put Susan Lovenburg as president, Alan Fernandes as vice president and then you might go in order of finish after that.
Except, there was a concern (at least expressed to me by some) that Ms. Lovenburg had already served as board president. Newly-elected Madhavi Sunder jumped the process and nominated Alan Fernandes immediately.
Newly-elected Barbara Archer asked for some discussion. Ms. Lovenburg expressed the hope that this would be a consensus-based decision rather than a divisive one. And after expressing her interest to serve, she turned to Mr. Fernandes to ask, “Alan, how ready do you feel?”
Mr. Fernandes responded, “I am ready, but only because of your advice and counsel. I will continue to rely on you and the entire board.”
Later, Ms. Lovenburg expressed some concern over how the matter was handled. Alan Fernandes then took a somewhat unusual step as newly-installed presiding officer to make the motion for Madhavi Sunder to be elected vice president.
The longstanding board policy on this has been that the member who has not served yet gets named president on the new board. Alan Fernandes had been named interim on December 5 by the old board.
While this is mostly a case of much ado about nothing, it was interesting to watch how the new board started to work with one another. Will this be a more contentious board? Will blocks start to emerge? What will be the focus of this board?
Innovation Park Discussion
In the past few weeks there has been an interesting topic of conversation – how should the innovation parks be rolled out? Right now, there are seven million square feet of proposed space between the two major peripheral innovation park proposals at Mace and Northwest. Plus, there is a third proposal at Nishi that is mixed use.
One concern expressed is that if you end up with three proposals on the spring 2016 ballot – you end up in a situation where they all go down.
At the same time – picking a winner and a loser arbitrarily is perhaps itself a losing proposition. Whoever goes second loses.
There is a school of thought that allows all proposals to go forward and may the best proposal win. However, the electoral scenario of competing innovation parks looks like a losing proposition, as well.
Here is the calculation there. The polling on Mace Ranch shows there is about a 30% opposition at the start. For the purposes of this discussion, we start there. That means about 60% are predisposed to support a project with another 10% undecided.
Now we start the campaign and we have Mace and Northwest going at it. Even if both sides decide to agree not to attack each other but rather make the position case for the need for innovation parks, we have a de facto competition between the two sides – and, given the stakes, the temptation is going to be to muddy the water for the other project.
Here is the problem you face in this scenario. The opposition has a simple case to make to the skeptical voters – seven million square feet is too much. If you vote for one, two might get approved.
Meanwhile, we have three camps developing on the pro side. First, those will support both, either because they want both or they hope one succeeds. Second, those who will support Mace. Third, those who will support Northwest.
Finally, there are two other camps developing besides the 30% who are simply going to vote no automatically. There are those who started out in the middle and those who said they would support the Mace proposal in the poll, but are swayed during the campaign.
The bottom line here is, in a clean election, with one innovation park, it’s probably a close call as to whether you can hold 50% of the voters to support it. The problem in this election, with two options, is you start splitting potential support – those who want an innovation park, but support either Mace over the Northwest or Northwest over Mace.
Even if there is one innovation park that many people think is better, the act of potentially splitting the votes could be fatal if opposition borders around the 50% mark.
On the other hand, who is going to accept going second in this scenario, as believing that the seven million square feet proposal is too much potentially dooms the second peripheral park.
There is an additional concern developing – last summer our analysis was that the city’s fiscal circumstances would help push the innovation parks over the top as the city needed additional revenue, long term, to obtain sustainability.
I still believe we need that revenue. I believe that the surge in property tax is more likely to be the result of pent-up demand than an ongoing increase. I still believe we have millions in deferred maintenance that we need to fund. I still believe that pensions and health care costs will increase dramatically over time.
The result is, even with improved fiscal conditions, we need a parcel tax short-term and we need to generate revenue long-term. But when people start arguing that the structural deficit is about to disappear and that things are improving, I worry we will lose a sense of urgency for creating a truly sustainable budget that can enable us to start doing the nice-to-haves in the longer term.
The council has some critical decisions to make, and how to roll out these options is perhaps at the top of the list.
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—David M. Greenwald reporting