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Issue date: October 13, 2000

Parting shots Parting shots (October 13, 2000)

by Jeb Bing

C<@$p>ub Scouts from Pleasanton Pack 948, attending their first City Council meeting on Oct. 3, had a chance to see along with the rest of us the more volatile side of our Mayor Ben Tarver.

In an outburst midway through the meeting - triggered by a proposed new developer fee agreement with the school district - Tarver accused the district board of failing to collect millions of dollars from two builders: Signature Properties and Standard-Pacific. Tarver said the money was promised under an old 1992 agreement that he helped draft. It was designed to meet school district financial shortfalls for new schools and expansions.

Tarver has a point. Indeed, while other developers under the 1992 agreement have been paying $5.37 a square foot in school fees, Standard-Pacific and Signature have been getting a $1 discount by agreeing to cover any shortfalls. Now, with the new agreement, all developers will pay $6.50 a square foot on new construction, one of the highest fees in the state. Signature and Standard-Pacific's eight-year-long obligation will go away. They took a chance on having to advance millions of dollars to cover shortfalls - and won. No shortfall was ever declared.

Tarver is bitter that the school district didn't go after the developers to pay for new schools and expansions. But the district couldn't justify declaring shortfalls. Since 1992, a recession year, Pleasanton school funding has soared, building has boomed (along with developer fees) and the state has increased payments and reimbursements to school districts.

More recently, when the district considered a shortfall for its still unbuilt Neal school or a proposed fourth high school, Signature balked. The 1992 agreement stipulates that the shortfalls it must cover are those caused by excessive growth from new homes. A recent demographer's report shows, however, that higher enrollments are from 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s housing stock, where older parents are selling in record numbers to younger families. These homes are teeming with school-age children that are adding to school rolls.

Rather than fight Signature and possibly other developers in the courts, the school board and City Council members Kay Ayala and Sharrell Michelotti met with developers for many hours over the past three months to hammer out the new agreement. Sure, it gives Signature and Standard-Pacific a pass on the $1 discount they've enjoyed since 1992, but now all developers, including many new ones to come to Pleasanton since 1992, are on the same page, paying the same fees.

Tarver came to City Hall in the early 1980s to campaign against the development of Hacienda Business Park. He was angry then and it looks like he'll go out the same way. His words on Oct. 3:

"I'm not up for re-election and I'm a short-timer and I'll be gone in a month. And I'm so happy about it because I've been fighting everybody else for 12 years and I'm kind of going out the same way I came in. I don't know what to tell you, but I don't think we're making good decisions for the kids in our community."

His colleagues on the City Council don't agree. They voted 4-1 to approve the new agreement. Developers have signed on across the board for the higher $6.50 rate, including a provision that removes the old 5,000-square-foot cap on the fee. The school board also gave it a unanimous thumbs up, including Board President Cindy McGovern, a longtime Tarver ally who took the brunt of his criticism.

"I am sorry that Ben feels so vehemently against the school district and the board," she told a hushed council chamber. "I have never had better working relationships with any City Council than this one and I totally appreciate it."

Recent test scores show our schools are among the best in the state; teachers' salaries are among the highest; we have one of the highest percentages of high school graduates who go on to college. From this perspective, it seems like we've been making very good decisions for the kids in Pleasanton. <@$p><@$p>!

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