Thank heaven, the 35% of Tuesday's voters who managed to quash the Measure E $98 a year parcel tax vote in Pleasanton don't have a similar controlling voice in the rest of our city's or the state's operations or most of us would be heading for someplace else. That's all it took to deny more than $2 million in desperately needed funds for school children and education in our community. The opponents of Measure E, including the right-wing and Tea Party advocates who spoke against the parcel tax at recent school board meetings, couldn't find a majority of like-minded voters if they had campaigned openly. Yet because of California's peculiar system of "direct democracy" and its two-thirds-plus-one vote requirements for tax measures to become law, the minority rules. In its current magazine, The Economist offers a special report on California's dysfunctional democracy. It could have substituted the word "Pleasanton," where two-to-three speakers with loud, demanding voices can scuttle a tax measure to support our schools or, across First Street, to cause the City Manager to go back on his handshake agreement with the city employees union on an already negotiated contract.
This citizen legislature is causing chaos with those elected to govern the city and the school board, who are barred from fighting back against a barely visible minority that doesn't like the job they're doing but doesn't want to seek public office and all the burdens that go with it to do the job their way. At least Steve Brozosky, who served on both the City Council and the Pleasanton school board -- and has now turned against the actions of both -- makes his opposition publicly with well thought-out reasons for his positions. We'll give credit, too, to David Miller, a self-proclaimed Tea Party member, whose children attend Pleasanton public schools, and Doug Miller, outgoing head of the Pleasanton post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a spokesman for local veterans, who have been consistent in their public comments, demanding a pay freeze or rollback in salaries and benefits for city and school district employees.
For the most part, there was no organized opposition to the parcel tax and only a few yard signs urging a No vote on Measure E. So we don't know why Measure E failed. Charles Heath of TBWB Strategies, a consulting group that was paid $250,000 to develop strategy for passing the parcel tax, remarked Tuesday night that the measure would have "won by a landslide" if it were not for the state's requirement that a tax increase must receive two-thirds of the vote. We all knew this going into Tuesday's parcel tax vote -- the second to fail in the last two years -- but we relied on the costly expertise of Mr. Heath and fellow consultant Bryan Godbe that this time, because of their surveys and campaign strategies, victory was a sure thing.
Perhaps three times is a charm, which is why some school board members already are calling for another try at a parcel tax. We doubt that will happen this year or next. In the meantime, the 65% of us who supported Measure E have little recourse but to watch as more teachers are terminated, more programs cut, class sizes increased and programs for our most needy and vulnerable students reduced or paired with neighboring school districts. With another 3,000 residents expected to move to Pleasanton in the next few years as the result of state housing department and Superior Court orders, Pleasanton will need to provide at least one more elementary school to stay within its 600+ elementary school population policy. But with a $7 million budget deficit for the coming school year, an anti-school tax controlling minority, and a governor whose tax and budget plans are stalled by the same radical minority in Sacramento, we can expect school populations here to increase in the short term and the historic lure of the city's quality education program to start to fade.
Correction: The editorial on May 6 should have said that TBWB Strategies a consulting group was paid $85,102 by the Pleasanton school district to develop strategy for winning the Measure E parcel tax election. The school district incurred additional costs of $200,000 to $250,000 to hold the mail-by-ballot election.