Monday Morning Thoughts II: Why It Might Be Easier to Vote Down a Parcel Tax Than Change the School Board

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On Saturday, the Vanguard column noted that the frustration over the state of the AIM program has once again brought the whispers back about mounting an opposition to the parcel tax.  Many have pushed back against this idea, arguing that cutting or eliminating the parcel tax would mean slashing core programs in Davis.

One group sees opposition to the parcel tax as the only leverage they have over a district they see as unresponsive to the public. “Voting against the parcel tax is a signal that the public does not support the board’s performance.  Voting for the parcel tax sends the message that the public supports the board’s decisions and is willing to entrust them with properly allocating this tax revenue.”

But others pushed back, “While voting against a parcel tax will indeed ‘send a signal’ regarding disapproval of the current board, it will also send a much more impactful signal that the voters are willing to do measurable harm to the current students of Davis in order to send their primary signal. This might be a reasonable action if there were no alternative method for indicating dissatisfaction with board members. Fortunately there is such a mechanism. It is to vote the offending board members out of their position.”

As Sunday’s column suggests, simply voting out “the offending board members” is not as simple as it might seem.  The city experience with Measure J shows that it is far easier to vote against projects than find members to run for office who will support community values.

In the current election, Nishi is in a fight to see if voters will pass it.  And yet, all four announced candidates have come out in favor of Measure A (Nishi).

We can trace this phenomenon back to the early days of Measure J.  In 2005, the Davis City Council put Covell Village on the ballot with a 4-1 vote. The voters of Davis promptly voted down that project with an overwhelming 60-40 vote.

However, the voters apparently saw no problem with that vote to put the matter on the ballot.  While Ted Puntillo decided not to seek a second term on the council and was replaced with a slower-growth official, Lamar Heystek, the other three were reelected in their next term overwhelmingly.

In fact, Ruth Asmundson (2006) and Don Saylor (2008) were top vote-getters while Stephen Souza, in 2008, finished a strong second.

In other words, despite being misaligned with the voters on Measure X, all three candidates who chose to seek reelection did as well as they possibly could.

Assuming that both Alan Fernandes and Susan Lovenburg run for reelection in November, getting one or both out of office will take a huge and monumental effort for those who support the AIM program.

On the other hand, by our projections it doesn’t take a lot of votes switching sides to change the outcome.

From 2008 until 2012, the district was able to get five parcel tax votes to exceed the 2/3rds threshold. However, they had a real close call in 2011 with Measure A. Measure A passed by just 89 votes due to a series of stumbles by the district.

In September, our analysis shows the last three elections had alarmingly thin margins. Aside from Measure A, Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of people to switch their vote to change the dynamics. It bears noting that none of those campaigns had anything resembling organized activities. There were no precinct walks against the parcel tax. There were no paid mailers. The token opposition was a group of anti-tax people who have opposed every tax and whose arguments were not going to resonate in the population.

For those who argue this is simply cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, there is a third possibility. Voters, angry with the district over AIM or other issues, can vote down the parcel tax in November.  That will force a crisis and the threat of deep cuts.  But the district would still have time to act on another parcel tax before the damage is done.

The district would obviously have to change things very quickly to get the public back on board, and it is a risky strategy.

As we noted with regards to Measure J and now the school board, one of the strange oddities in Davis is that the people who end up getting elected to office often do not match the views of many who end up voting for them.  For reasons that are not altogether clear, it may be viewed as easier to oppose and defeat the parcel tax to send a message than it would be to find a candidate that could get elected to change the policy on the board level.

There are a number of theories at play here – one is that people tend to vote for people they like and may not know the policy positions offered by the individual candidates.  As another pointed out, people simply are not paying close attention to the elections and as a result as not really knowledgeable about the issues and the candidates.

However, a Measure R vote for a project is black and white, as is the up or down vote for the parcel tax.

Until people have to go to the voting booth, all of this is speculation, threats and a bit of bravado. Will people actually vote down funding over their anger for specific policies?  That remains to be seen.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts II: Why It Might Be Easier to Vote Down a Parcel Tax Than Change the School Board”

  1. Barack Palin

    Measure A passed by just 89 votes 

    Since it takes 2/3’s to pass that would mean if just 30 of those yes votes had voted no Measure A wouldn’t have passed.

    1. South of Davis

      BP wrote:

      > Since it takes 2/3’s to pass that would mean if just 30 of those yes

      > votes had voted no Measure A wouldn’t have passed.

      No, if 30 people had changed their votes it would have still passed (by “just 59 votes”)…

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      I believe the way I calculated it (I did this in September) was I took the number of people who voted, calculated what two-thirds of those would be, and subtracted the number who voted for the Measure by the two-thirds number and that result was 89. So 89 people would have had to switch sides.

  2. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > our analysis shows the last three elections had alarmingly thin margins.

    > Aside from Measure A, Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin

    > while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.

    I’m no election expert, but I’m guessing that one of the main reasons for the “thin margins” in 2011 and 2012 had to do with the economy. n 2006 the average home sale in Davis was over $600K (and the S&P 500 was in the 1,200-1,400K range).  In 2011-12 the average home sale in Davis was ~$400K (and the S&P 500 was lower than in 2006).

    Today the average home price in Davis is over $600K again (and the S&P 500 is over 2,000).  As long as home prices and the stock market say high I don’t see any problem with school parcel taxes passing (especially since the old people who don’t want to pay can vote to “help the kids” and don’t have to pay).

    1. hpierce

      the old people who don’t want to pay can vote to “help the kids” and don’t have to pay…

      A) condescending

      B) “representation without taxation”

      C) unless you are buying or selling a home, the value of your home has nothing to do with “cash flow”, whereas the tax is ‘real time’… home ownership is not a liquid asset

      D) Re:  investments (S&P referent) are, if one thinks about it, not really a ‘liquid asset’

      1. South of Davis

        hpierce wrote:

        > unless you are buying or selling a home, the value of your home

        > has nothing to do with “cash flow”, whereas the tax is ‘real time’

        You need to call a mortgage broker and he will tell you how to turn the increase in value of your home in to cash (a friend of my wife and her husband recently refinanced their South Davis home and got cash to buy a Tesla Model S).

        >  investments (S&P referent) are, if one thinks about it, not

        > really a ‘liquid asset’

        Other than some people with assets held in trust I don’t know anyone that can’t turn stocks in to cash (sure you take a tax hit on 401K and IRA funds) but most people that own stocks can easily call a broker (or do a few mouse clicks) and easily turn stock holdings in to checking account cash.

    2. The Pugilist

      SOD- by thin margins we are talking about at times 69 to 72 percent of the vote.  I have a hard time believing you could get more of the vote.  In a two-thirds undemocratic system, you’re always going to have relatively thin margins.

  3. Tia Will

    I think that there may be another factor at play here. When people care passionately about an issue, they tend to believe that others must see the issue in the same way. We frequently hear comments in which posters state their own belief about what the “majority” believes without any real evidence to back it up.

    I would venture a guess that compared to the entire community, the number of ardent supporters of the AIM program is relatively small. Given this, it would probably be relatively hard to get enough people excited enough to mount a recall or run a campaign for a candidate solely based on their position on AIM.

    However, we do have a number of people in our community who have a basic philosophy of opposition to taxes and distrust of government officials regardless of positions held. So if these people can be riled up enough to care, voting down a parcel tax becomes that much easier. I would also hazard a guess that the majority of these people do not have students in the public school system.

    Voters, angry with the district over AIM or other issues, can vote down the parcel tax in November.  That will force a crisis and the threat of deep cuts.  But the district would still have time to act on another parcel tax before the damage is done.”

    I think that, despite one poster’s comment that blackmail was not their intent, this paragraph makes it very clear that blackmail is exactly what is being proposed. Another poster stated that this would be the only way “to get the school board’s attention”. I suggestion that “getting their attention” is not the goal. Forcing them to do what is wanted by this particular group of parents and advocates is the goal. I know that this is a stark presentation, but do any of the advocates deny that this is the goal and the tactics that are being promoted ? Would any of this same group be supportive of me if I were to mount a campaign  to defeat any parcel tax until my favored policy ( individualized instruction for each student) were fully implemented, or if my son’s Lacrosse team had been cut ?

     

    1. hpierce

      OK… using the number of voters in the measure cited above (~16,500), it would take ~ 825 folk to sign a recall referendum.  Remember, in a recall, there are usually also candidates to fill the position if the recall is successful… so it’s not a yes/no vote.  See the experience when Gray Davis was recalled.

    2. lotaspark

      I think you are missing the point Tia. If people feel that the people on the board couldn’t care less about the needs of children in this community why would they give them more money, to say go hire private investigators (volleyball gate) or pay for stupid surveys that their IT department could do for free on surveymonkey? Personally, I will not be giving this board ANY of my money and will instead give it directly to the school so that I know that 100% of it is helping the needs of ALL  students. I think the parcel tax is ridiculous in the first place because if you spent any time in a PTA meeting, you would see that the PTA is responsible for paying for a vast majority of the services that the kids in that school use. Those same items that the school board claims to cover with the parcel taxes. It is simply not true. When the teachers in our school needed books, or balls for PE, or books for the library or science equipment the PTA paid for all of it. What the school board did with the money that they supposedly allotted for these items I will never know.

      You said “Would any of this same group be supportive of me if I were to mount a campaign  to defeat any parcel tax until my favored policy ( individualized instruction for each student) were fully implemented, or if my son’s Lacrosse team had been cut ?” and my answer to you is yes, I would be supportive of you. Our kids are not of the age where they can stand up for themselves and be heard (as is evident my the number of kids who spoke up for AIM and how it made a difference in their lives and the board ignored them). If you felt like your child’s future depended on his participation in Lacrosse or is need for individualized attention, then you would be a bad parent for not doing everything you could to get your child what he needs. A lot of these kids will quit school and/or fail out if the are not taught in the method that they can understand. My son is a hands-on learner. You could talk to him for hours about something but he will only really understand it when he can touch it and see what it does. Many of the anti-AIM people can’t understand that. For us the program is just about helping our child actually get something out of school and learn. No one seems to bat an eye when a parent of a disable child fights to get their child an aid or para-educator, yet you are trying to guilt us into not doing the same for our children. Just because your child may not have needed the program doesn’t mean that no one does. Just remember, you can’t have it both ways: I wouldn’t support your child’s needs, but I expect you to pay for mine. That is a very selfish stance. Instead, like I said, I will donate directly to the school. Then the people who don’t care about children won’t have a say in how the money is spent on them.

  4. wdf1

    If a school parcel tax were to fail, how do you know that its failure would be understood to have occurred because of dissatisfaction with the AIM program?  Especially if the school board trustee campaign didn’t reflect equivalent dissatisfaction?  I think it’s a less clear way to make a point.

    On the other hand, incumbent trustees have lost before, if the challenger was well organized.  A challenger candidate with Sunder’s caliber of campaign would likely succeed.

    1. Anon

      I don’t think the failure of a school parcel tax would necessarily mean a dissatisfaction with the AIM program, but more a dissatisfaction with the way in which the AIM program and other matters are handled.  The current school board doesn’t seem to give a rap about what the public thinks, so the public has a right to judge accordingly and send a counter message to a non-receptive school board.

       

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    My decision is simple. If Lovenburg runs again, I will vote for any candidate opposing her, AND I will vote “No” on the parcel tax. I’ll be joined by a few family members and friends in my voting despite all of us having always voted for parcel taxes in the past.

    If both the parcel tax and Lovenburg lose, then the new board will have time to persuade me and others that – despite the continued presence of Archer (and Adams) on the board – DJUSD will be capable of offering a quality education to ALL students and will operate in an honest and transparent manner. If that happens, then I will vote “Yes” on the next parcel tax proposal – and look forward to the opportunity to vote against Archer and Adams when their terms finally expire.

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        No. If she doesn’t run again, then I’ll very likely vote for the parcel tax. Now that Roberson is gone, if she leaves as well, with two new board members to offset Archer and Adams, and a new Superintendent on the way who I’m willing to gamble will not be an idiot, I’m more than glad to err on the side of optimism and reasonable hope.

  6. Frankly

    Interesting turn on the property tax debate.

    I would see a failed renewal of Measure A as being more attributable to overall tax weariness with a bit of growing animus toward the growing number of retired 50-something people that have all, surprise-surprise, just left their career in government for a full end-of-life paid vacation.

    I would also add some animus over the raise given to city employees from our sales tax increase.  Not that the two are monetarily connect; but that it just demonstrates that our politicians and public officials are irresponsible with our hard-earned wages that they loot.

    As for the GATE/AIM issue… I think there might be an offset with as many people supportive of the changes to that program as there are people angry that it was changed.

  7. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Animus this, animus that. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of bemoaning the “looting” of our “hard-earned wages” we all had a little more gratitude for what we have ?  Especially those of us who clearly have plenty.

  8. mendel

    I agree we should take a measure that will hurt the board; otherwise they will not listen to the public. I met with Susan yesterday during the office hour. She basically said, they are trying to swiftly transition into the new system and she accepted that it will have negative impact on many. I don’t think the members have any kids that are 3rd graders to even understand why parents are upset about the way they have handle this. During March 8th meeting, they said there will be three strands. Why did this changed? They have not given any explanation for this. Susan said they cannot have less than 29 kids in each strand because this will cost the DJUSD. From my understanding, it should cost nothing to them to offer AIM program (unless I was misinformed).

    In our school also, PTA does many things that helps students. I brought up the slow internet issue at our daughter’s school. Susan said this should not be PTAs responsibility and it should be DJUSD’s responsibility. Then why they have not upgraded the system? It is painfully slow for the kids to take test for their book reading counts. There is a waiting time for about 2-3 weeks.

    I think, we should either recall the board members or we should vote down the parcel tax.

    From discussion with many parents; Susan, Tom, and Barbara wants to get rid of AIM eventually in Davis because they don’t like this program.

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