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College Bond Wins With Renter Support

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

November 10 -- A $135 million community college bond to buy land and renovate facilities won by a three percent margin last Tuesday, thanks largely to Santa Monica renters.

Measure S received its strongest support in Santa Monica neighborhoods where renters outnumber homeowners by at least three to one -- Ocean Park, the Pico Neighborhood, Mid-City, Downtown and the Wilshire corridor.

More than 60 percent of the voters in each of the renter-heavy neighborhoods voted to approve the Santa Monica College bond, exceeding the 55 percent of the vote it needed to pass.

By contrast, the bond failed to surpass the 55 percent benchmark in Sunset Park and North of Montana, the Santa Monica neighborhoods dominated by homeowners.

“The tax impact is heavier on the homeowner than on the renter, so that's probably why the renters didn't look at it too heavily,” said local political observer Bruce Cameron.

The bond will cost homeowners about $18 per $100,000 of the assessed value of their homes each year for the life of the bond, which will likely be 10 to 12 years. Renters will pay less than $15 a year if the Rent Control Board votes to allow landlords to pass through the cost.

The board, which voted to support the measure, is expected to take up the issue when the details of the bond are finalized, Rent Board officials said.

“The mechanics of the pass through would have to be taken up by the board in the future,” said Mary Ann Yurkonis, the Rent Control Board’s administrator.

The tax burden to homeowners, however, was only one reason for the citywide low 48.5 percent approval vote in Sunset Park, which surrounds the college on three sides, neighborhood activists said.

"Residents deal with the impacts from the college every day, including traffic congestion, parking problems and concerns over pedestrian safety," said Zina Josephs, chair of Friends of Sunset Park, the neighborhood group that represents the area. "More money for the college means more of the same problems."

The mostly-renter Pico Neighborhood, which also abuts the college, handed the bond its second-highest percentage of approval among neighborhoods in Santa Monica.

In Malibu -- where the City Council struck a joint powers agreement with the college to purchase long-coveted land that could otherwise be sold to developers -- the bond narrowly passed with 55.55 percent of the vote in Malibu.

Though the margin of victory was slim, supporters of the bond said carrying Malibu -- where a 2002 Malibu City measure to accomplish much of the same purpose failed -- was a victory.

"Everything is relative," said Don Girard, SMC’s director of marketing. "It did very, very well in Malibu, and the reason is that (Malibu City Measure M)… only received 43 percent two years earlier. So this is a substantial improvement, and we're very pleased that Malibu carried its own."

Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern, too, noted that previous bonds for purchasing land had fared far worse than Measure S in Malibu.

"I'm delighted that the people of Malibu voted for it and that it passed, and I think it will present a lot of exciting opportunities for the community," Stern said.

Between Santa Monica and Malibu, the bond passed with 58.62 percent.

SMC's 2002 bond for earthquake repair, Measure U, passed by a far greater margin, garnering 69.66 percent approval.

Girard attributed the lower approval rating for Measure S to higher turnout in this year's Presidential election.

"One of the differences is twice as many people voted on this," Girard said. "Measure U was a highly targeted campaign in which people who were motivated to vote yes turned out in high numbers, and in this election the motivation to vote was from other issues.

“And so the outcome reflected a more natural result,” he added. “Let's not say that 58 percent is anything other than a high approval."

Josephs and Cameron both said taxpayer fatigue may have been a factor.

"Supplemental taxes on a typical parcel in Sunset Park now run at least $700," Josephs said. "More bonds means a further increase in these extra charges."

Cameron said he guessed "a little bit of tax fatigue was involved," but he added that it would be difficult to draw a conclusion that voters were becoming less inclined to vote for educational bonds simply because Measure S received a lower percentage of support that Measure U.

"I think it's really hard to go from that vote to that conclusion, because I think in some people's minds they were suspicious that it (Measure S) really wasn't an educational bond," Cameron said.

Cameron noted that some residents questioned the use of college bond money for what some saw as city projects, such as land acquisition.

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