Superintendent John Casey wisely took consideration of a possible parcel tax off the school board's table last week, saying that this year's budget shortfall for Pleasanton will not be as bad as feared and that economic concerns make this a poor time to ask voters for more money. We agree, which is also why we're perplexed by a $500-million bond measure that the East Bay Regional Park board agreed to float in November. With rising gasoline prices, turbulence in the housing market, uncertainty in the general economy and job market and a feisty presidential campaign now under way that is focused on all of these issues, it seems an odd time to seek voter approval more parkland. Perhaps the park district board, which voted 7-0 for in favor of placing the bond measure on the ballot in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, eyed the results of bond and parcel tax measures that went before voters last June 3 and thought it was worth a roll of the dice to try for a win on Nov. 4, when record voter turnouts are projected. After all, Bay Area school districts fared reasonably well in the 16 school measures, including 10 parcel taxes, all of which required two-thirds support just as the park bond measure and Pleasanton school parcel tax would need. But that was nearly two months ago. Gas prices, economic worries and housing problems have gotten worse, much worse since then. Casey believes it's too dicey to expect voter approval this year; the park board believes it has a good chance of winning because voters will recognize that with better parks, they won't have to drive to distant locations. But with the bond measure's two most expensive projects aimed at finishing the East Shore State Park in the Richmond area and creating a new regional park at the old Concord Naval Weapons Station, the Regional Park District's appeal to the Tri-Valley will be a stretch at best.
By putting any consideration of a parcel tax aside for this year, Casey has a more realistic approach to voter appeal. It's just not the right time, he told the board, although the proposal could come back next year if there are new and more onerous cuts in the state education budget. As it is, the governor's May budget revise leaves most funding intact, although Pleasanton will see some restraints, but nothing major. Casey no doubt looked at the same June 3 results that buoyed the bond measure advocates in the park district and saw things differently. In Alameda, for example, a see-saw battle had that city's school district watching its proposed levy of an emergency tax of $120 per residential parcel pressing back and forth election night just short and then just over the two-thirds majority vote it needed for passage. Finally on June 29, after all provisional, absentee and ballot box votes had been counted, the tax levy was approved by the barest of margins. Nearby San Ramon was not so lucky, with voters rejecting Measure D that would have extended and increased the current parcel tax to support school programs and services. In 2004, voters approved a $90-per-parcel tax which expires June 30, 2009. A similar proposal had been defeated two years earlier.
Voters approved school bond and tax measures June 3 in Hayward, Antioch and Palo Alto, as well as a whopping 70 percent "yes" vote in San Francisco for a parcel tax that will go mostly to boost teacher salaries. But voter concerns over the economy were also factors in the defeat of parcel taxes in Pacifica, the Gravenstein Union School District in Sonoma County and three local districts, also in Sonoma County.
As for rolling the dice based on these June results and continued economic concerns, it looks to us as if Casey made the right call to hold off for another--and better--time while the park district will face a challenge to convince enough voters that more parks are worth the price.