Opponents clash over Measure L ballot language

Kyle Szymanski, The Brentwood Press, September 19, 2019

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The hotly contested debate over the proposed urban limit line expansion initiative in Brentwood recently took another twist.

A judge required that an opposition group’s school funding argument be amended prior to appearing in the official voter information guide, sample ballot and all other election materials, after it was challenged by one of the measure’s proponents and ruled to be false and misleading.

Superior Court Judge Steven K. Austin indicated in a court order that the statement “school funding is allocated based on student attendance, so homes without students do not create any ongoing school revenue” was false and misleading. The statement will now be amended to read, “Brentwood’s state-mandated LCFF funding formula is based on school attendance. Homes without students won’t help with that.”

LCFF refers to Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s school funding formula, enacted in 2013.

The required change came after Bob Nunn, a member of the development group behind Measure L, filed a lawsuit against the argument’s authors — all opponents of the measure — challenging the validity of the statement.

The court order indicates that the original statement is false and misleading, but it does not expand on that analysis.

“It’s a nuance, but it’s a gigantic nuance, because basically the statement they were making was that this development doesn’t create any ongoing, new revenue, which is absolutely, completely false, and the judge agreed with us,” Nunn said. “This project creates millions of dollars in annual contributions to property taxes. Absolutely, it goes to local schools.”

The proposed measure — spearheaded by a group of local developers, including longtime Brentwood farmer and developer Ron Nunn — would move the mark at which urban development must stop, clearing the way for a proposed 815-acre project of up to 2,400 residential units (at least 80% age-restricted, active adult-specific), with other elements, situated north of Balfour Road, east of Deer Valley Road and west of the Shadow Lakes and Brentwood Hills neighborhoods.

Measure opponent Kathy Griffin, one of five authors of the challenged statement, asserts that the judge did not rule on the original statement, but rather required attorneys for both sides to come to a mutually agreeable compromise on the language.

Griffin says her group agreed to the language change when faced with the election’s tight schedule and the judge’s insistence that the two parties work together to satisfy all concerns, but her group still maintains their original statement was not misleading.

“It was intended to explain that increases in property taxes are offset by lower state contributions to fill the school funding gaps,” Griffin said. “Schools absolutely get the same amount of money whether this project is built or not.”

Bob Nunn offered another take, noting that local schools garner funding in a variety of ways, including property tax revenue in addition to state funding based on student headcount.

“Yes, they don’t get state funding to offset children’s impacts,” Nunn said. “Well, our senior communities don’t create child impacts. But they still create annual, dependable multi-million dollar property tax revenue.”

Bill Clark, deputy superintendent of the Contra Costa County Office of Education, referred school funding questions to a recently published statement by the Independent California Budget and Policy Center.

“Many Californians believe that most support for public education, including K-12 schools, comes from local property tax revenues. However, this is not the case. Proposition 98 — the state’s minimum funding guarantee for K-12 schools and community colleges — uses two revenue sources to fulfill the state’s constitutional funding requirement for K-14 education: local property tax revenues and state General Fund revenues. In most years, Prop. 98 requires the state to step in and provide General Fund dollars to K-14 education so that state and local revenues combined reach a minimum funding level. Put another way, after K-12 school districts receive local property tax revenues, the state provides the remaining amount of funding needed to fulfill the state’s minimum funding obligation under Prop. 98. This means that during most years, including 2015-16 and 2016-17, the total Prop. 98 funding guarantee is not affected by the ups and downs of local property tax revenues. As a result, annual increases in local property tax revenues typically go toward fulfilling the Prop. 98 minimum funding guarantee, thereby freeing up state General Fund dollars for other budget priorities outside of Prop. 98.”

The Measure L special election is set for Nov. 5.

For more information on the measure, visit www.bit.ly/MeasureL