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Your Yes Vote Should be in the Mail  

By Frank Gruber

May 3, 2010 --Here's a quote from a 1924 advertisement in the Santa Monica Evening Outlook opposing annexation to the City of Los Angeles: "Vote 'NO' on Annexation BECAUSE: Our schools, considered the best in the state and the equal of any in the nation, would pass from our local to long distance supervision."

Santa Monicans have been proud of our schools for a long time, and that's why I believe that even in these tough times, and despite the two-thirds vote that is required, Measure A, the $198, five-year emergency parcel tax for Santa Monica-Malibu schools, will pass in the all mail-in election this month.

My ballot for Measure A arrived in the mail last Thursday. Friday morning I marked it "Yes" and mailed it in. Here are some reasons why.

While there are always positive reasons for funding schools, especially in Santa Monica where the schools have added so much "value" (both communitarian and financial) to the city, voters with Measure A are being asked to respond to a financial crisis -- a crisis that is no fault of he District.

California is suffering not only from the worst recession since the Great Depression, a recession that has lowered tax revenues drastically, but also from political gridlock in Sacramento. The situation in the state capitol allows more rural and exurban parts of the state to block the more urban and prosperous parts from enacting statewide taxes to fund education adequately.

Voters in these urban areas, which include Los Angeles County, regularly vote to tax themselves for schools bonds and other public benefits. But the operations of schools are funded largely at the state level.

In the past two years Santa Monica Malibu schools have been hit with cuts in state funding averaging $10 million per year, almost twice as much as the parcel tax will raise ($5.8 million) annually. While the District carried a reserve into the crisis, it's now depleted and the District needs the money.

You can't raise $10 million at a bake sale.

People always have complaints about government and that includes school districts. Sometimes these complaints are justified; I have aired my own criticisms of the District and the Board of Education over the years I've been writing this column, and I certainly believe they were justified.

But still, decade after decade, the Santa Monica Malibu public schools are among the best anywhere.

Right-wingers often say that governments should be run more like businesses; but what about businesses like Lehman Brothers, or Bear Stearns? Maybe they should have been run more like the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.

All human institutions have failings, but the current financial problems of our school district were caused more by mismanagement in the private sector, on Wall Street, than by any mismanagement over at District's headquarters on 16th Street.

Right-wingers also say that the public schools can't be fixed by "throwing money at them." But consider this -- California schools spend about $9,000 per year in operational costs per student, and that includes considerable spending for special education. In my view (and in my experience -- my son graduated from Santa Monica High School two years ago), with that money the public schools do a good job educating students who come from homes that are stable and who are provided with motivation and role models to study and learn.


But if money doesn't matter, why do upper-income parents "throw money" at education in the form of private school tuition? Private schools typically spend upwards of $30,000 per year per student, and they don't have to provide special education. So some people obviously believe that more money makes for a better education.

I suggest that if California schools had $30,000 per year to spend on each of the children in the state who don't come from stable homes or who don't have well-educated parents, the educational outcomes for those children would be much improved. (And for many of them, the state wouldn't later end up spending even more than that per year to house them in prisons.)

Take a look at the anti-Measure A arguments in the voter information guide -- they're kind of silly. And cynical. The right-wing nihilist opponents of Measure A argue that a flat tax hurts Santa Monica's low-income seniors and families, but the fact is that 70 percent of Santa Monicans, and not generally the wealthy ones, live in apartments, where the impact of the parcel tax will be at most minuscule.

That's the silly part. The cynical part is that no one benefits more from well-funded public schools than low-income families. And it's also cynical for the opponents to complain that a flat parcel tax is unfair; 30 years ago right-wing nihilists got Prop. 13 passed and created a system where the only reliable means of raising money for schools is a flat parcel tax that requires two-thirds approval. Now our local right-wingers say don't vote for a parcel tax because it's not as equitable as one that's based on the value of real estate -- the kind of tax prohibited by Prop. 13.

I wish they'd make up their minds.

But then if your politics are reactionary and you're trying to win an election in Santa Monica, where people believe in what government can do for them and for their neighbors, what can you do but make phony left-wing arguments?

* * *


Tomorrow night at 6:30 at the Santa Monica College's Bundy Campus: Come join me when I give a talk in Santa Monica College's Environmental and Urban Studies Lecture Series. The title of the talk is "It's All Local", and it will be about how local land use decisions affect the sustainability of cities. For more information, go to:

Starting on May 6th, the Planning Commission will begin its series of public hearings on the Draft Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and its ancillary Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). The purpose of these meetings will be to take public input and discuss the LUCE in order to formulate recommendations to the City Council, which is scheduled to consider adoption of the LUCE and FEIR in June 2010.
The schedule of meetings is as follows:

Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. (discussion of the FEIR)
Monday, May 17, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.

All meetings will be conducted in City Council Chambers. located on the 2nd Floor of Santa Monica City Hall, 1685 Main Street.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on

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If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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