Final count on absentee and provisional ballots brings final Yes votes to 67.61 percent, squeaking past the necessary two-thirds to pass.
By Jonathan Friedman/Special to the Malibu Times
After two days of suspense, Measure S has passed.
The word finally came Thursday afternoon after about 1,000 provisional and absentee ballots were counted at the Los Angeles County Registrar’s headquarters in Norwalk. The measure received 67.61 percent of the vote, just less than one percentage point more than it needed for passage.
The community was left with a cliffhanger Tuesday night after all the precincts had reported their tallies, with the measure receiving just 17 votes above the required two-thirds majority. It was clear that the provisional and additional absentee ballot counting would be the deciding factor.
“It was nerve racking and frustrating, not knowing what was going to happen,” said Laura Rosenthal, co-chair of the Malibu Yes on Measure S campaign.
Rosenthal went down to Norwalk Thursday, June 5, with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy and other campaign leaders to watch the vote counting. Their anxiety turned to excitement as it became evident the measure was going to pass. Marcia Ventura, the Registrar’s public information officer, said there are still a handful of votes left to be counted, but that it will not affect the outcome of the election.
With the $225 parcel tax measure’s passage, the district can now bring back $6.2 million worth of programs and jobs that were cut earlier this year. Included in that package are all 66 classroom teaching positions, the elementary school music program, two nursing positions, five elementary school librarians and several other positions.
“I’m very relieved … students will have most of the programs that they’ve been having before and the quality of education will not be harmed dramatically,” Superintendent Deasy said.
Santa Monica attorney Mathew Millen, who led the campaign against the parcel tax, said he is not surprised with the result. He accused the “Yes” campaign of using inappropriate tactics. District students had been sent home with information on voting that included applications for absentee ballots. They were encouraged to have their parents sign the applications and return them to the school. The teachers then forwarded the applications to the Registrar.
“I’m disappointed because of the manner of which the school district participated in assisting the proponents of the tax,” Millen said.
But Rosenthal disagreed with Millen’s take on the matter. She said the information the students received did not specify which way to vote, but rather just encouraged people to register absentee. She said it also served as a lesson in how government works for the students.
One of the major arguments against the tax made by Millen and others is that as a flat parcel tax, it is unfair since all property owners must pay the same, regardless of size.
“Why should I pay the same tax as Paradise Cove, Point Dume Club or the Malibu Colony Shopping Center that all pay $225?” said Malibu resident Doug O’Brien, who said a tax based on the property’s square footage would be fairer.
But the measure’s supporters said a tax based on square-footage tax was too risky, because it has never been tested in the courts. If somebody tried to challenge it, not a far-fetched idea in Santa Monica or Malibu, it could be months or even years before the district would ever see a dime. However, opponents said that argument is a cover for the real reason that a square-footage tax was not attempted, a fear that large businesses would not support it.
Measure S is the second attempt in less than a year at a parcel tax. Last November, a $300 tax, Measure EE, failed to get the required two-thirds majority. Board of Education Member Emily Bloomfield said that was a wake up call for the community.
“We are used to getting taxes like that passed,” she said. “So for this campaign we had far more mobilization across the community.”
Despite the passage of Measure S, the district is still looking at more than $7.5 million worth of cuts. Deasy said district officials are in ongoing talks with both cities about increasing their contribution to the district.
Bloomfield said despite the cities being in a tight financial situation themselves, she hopes they will make education a number one priority. She said it would be better to give the district money that it needs now, rather than just set it aside for future city needs such as the City Hall fund.
“It’s kind of like setting aside money for your health fund when you’re in the middle of a traffic accident right now and you need some critical surgery.”