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Opponents of School Bond Mount Last Ditch Effort to Sway Voters


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November 2, 2018 -- A rag-tag army of school parents and neighborhood activists is mounting a last-ditch effort to oppose a record $485 million school facilities bond on Tuesday's ballot.

Opponents of Measure SMS argue that there was no public debate before the School Board placed the bond on the ballot in July and that there is no fixed list of projects it will fund. They think the bond should instead be placed on the 2020 ballot.

But with no campaign committee or money to spend, they are having a hard time getting the message out, despite the support of four of Santa Monica's seven neighborhood groups.

On Thursday, opponents sent an email flier -- "Don't be fooled into supporting a blank check," it reads, "Vote No on SMS" -- to 1,000 residents and encouraged them to distribute them to their neighbors.

"People are printing their own fliers and walking them around," said Tricia Crane, who heads Northeast Neighbors, one of the groups opposing the bond.

Wilmont, MidCity Neighbors and Friends of Sunset Park also voted to oppose the bond.

Education activist Nikki Kolhoff, who is spearheading the opposition, said a few residents are making their own lawn signs, including a large banner hanging from a porch in Sunset Park.

"People are wanting to put up lawn signs," said Kohloff, an attorney who has two children in the District. "Unfortunately, we don't have any."

Union Facts asks "Who's really running City Hall?"

Opponents of the bond acknowledge they are facing great odds.

There is no argument opposing the measure on the ballot ("Record Bond Measure for Santa Monica Schools Draws No Opposing Ballot Arguments," September 12, 2018).

And the Yes on SMS campaign has raised nearly $250,000 ("School Bond Campaign Contributions Near $250,000, Dominated by Outside Firms," October 31, 2018).

The campaign has used the money to flood mailboxes with a blitz of glossy mailers, including one that measures nearly 1 foot by 2 and a half feet when it is unfolded.

It also counts among its supporters the SMMPTA, SMMCTA, Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Police and Fire Departments, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, Santa Monica Forward and the League of Women Voters.

"I'm worried we're going to lose," Crane said, "that they're going to pass it. People are not informed."

According to the jpg mailer sent Thursday, the bond will cost taxpayers $1 billion with interest, has no senior exemptions and can be passed through to renters.

The mailer also says the School District "has not provided a detailed list of projects completed with previous bonds or completed a Master Plan."

On Thursday, the School District sent local media an email saying that "there has been quite a bit of inaccurate information floating on the web and social media the past few weeks relative to Measure SMS."

"It is very important for local voters to have accurate information to make this important decision that will impact the community now and for generations to come," said Gail Pinsker, the District's Community & Public Relations Officer.

Pinsker's email provides a link to a page on the District's website with information on the specific projects the bond measure -- which is specific to Santa Monica -- would fund.

It also provides a link to another page that "describes the urgent needs to modernize our schools and make them safer:"

Kolhoff said the District "doesn't say what the inaccurate information is in an attempt to discredit the entire opposition."

She said the list the District provided differs from the one discussed at the School Board meeting in July and the two-page flyer they handed out at PTA meetings in July and August.

"The project list is this living, breathing thing that keeps changing," Kolhoff said.

"What assurances do we have as to what it will look like when half a billion dollars have been spent?"

In an email sent to Northeast Neighbors' members October 18, Crane outlined the reasons for the group's opposition.

"While we support our schools, we do not support Measure SMS," Crane wrote.

"It is our hope that if the community votes NO on SMS it will send a message to the school district that they need to generate a master facilities plan and then come back to the voters in 2020 with a solid and transparent plan we can feel good about funding."

Santa Monica and Malibu voters have traditionally approved School District funding measures. Of the seven measures that have been placed on the ballot since 2000, five have passed.

While two parcel taxes, which require 66 percent of the vote to pass, have failed, voters have approved both bond measures, which require 55 percent of the vote.

Measure BB, a $268 million bond, was approved by voters in 2006 and Measure ES, a $385 million bond, was approved in 2012.


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