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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 3:15 pm | Fair 62º


Voters Reject SBCC’s Measure S Bond Attempt

Preliminary election results show the $288 million general obligation bond can't muster 55 percent voter approval

Santa Barbara City College's $288 million general obligation bond measure was shot down by voters in Tuesday's election, a rare loss in a community that generally favors education bond measures for local districts. 

With all precincts reporting, Measure S was falling short of the 55 percent majority needed to pass, with 51.1 percent of voters opposing the measure and 48.9 percent supporting it.

“I’m not surprised on the one hand, and I am surprised on the other hand,” said Lou Segal, who helped run the No on S campaign.

The pro-bond campaign had significant funding from the SBCC Foundation while the opposition did very little traditional campaigning.

It’s rare to see a school bond fail in this community, but “this was just an overreach,” Segal said of the $288 million attempt. “Hopefully they’ll pay attention to the community in the future."  

SBCC’s effort to upgrade facilities and replace several buildings on its three campuses had wide support from the education community, local elected officials and community groups.

“I’m understandably deeply disappointed, surprised and frankly, saddened,” SBCC President Lori Gaskin said.

There were 10 other community college bonds on the ballot Tuesday night and eight of them passed resoundingly, including a $275-million bond for Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo – a campus half the size of SBCC, Gaskin said.

“People have asked me, what do we do now? And my answer to that is, the need that we have on campus hasn’t evaporated, hasn’t disappeared between last night and today. The only difference is there continues to be no resources to address those facility improvement needs.”

The only options are a statewide capital outlay bond, which she says the state hasn’t supported since 2006, and going to the local voters.

Her priorities now are to finish the last Measure V-funded project, the east campus classroom building to replace 32 portable buildings, and find matching funding for the Campus Center replacement project. The state provided a portion of that project and Measure S would have funded the rest, Gaskin said. 

Opponents to the bond took issue with the non-academic facilities that would be funded, including a new $45 million sports pavilion and an aquatics facility, and the large percentage of non-local students.

Thirty-seven percent of enrollment comes from out-of-district students, according to SBCC, and opponents pointed to that group's impact on rental housing availability in Santa Barbara and Isla Vista.

Critics argued that the institution needs to focus on local students, since local voters are the ones paying for any general obligation bond.  

There are already several parcel and general obligation bond taxes on local property tax bills, Segal noted.

“You look at any one of them and they’re not terrible, but you add them up and they start to get onerous,” he said.

The vocal opponents include Ernie Salomon, who wrote the ballot arguments against the measure, pointing to the long-term financing costs of the bond and the fact that half the funding wouldn't be provided for another 10 years or so. 

“A small group of folks with a few dollars took on a powerful interest group and got their attention,” said Glen Mowrer, another member of No on S. “A community college is a public asset for the community it serves. The loss of this perspective is what cost SBCC this time around. If SBCC comes back with delineated needs, a specific cost and a promise to actually meet the needs we as a community see as appropriate, we will be supportive. This means classrooms for academic and vocational goals, space and resources for the adult education community and efficient administration.”

Voters previously passed a $77 million bond in 2008 which funded renovation and repair projects for SBCC.

Similarly, Measure S focused on modernizing and renovating buildings, not expanding the campuses to attract more students, Gaskin has said. 

Most buildings are 40 to 80 years old and heavily used, according to board members and faculty at SBCC.

“Our problem is, our problem remains no matter what happens,” SBCC board member Peter Haslund said Tuesday night.

Buildings continue to deteriorate regardless of election outcome, he added. 

He said he agreed with the opposition that a local property tax may not be the fairest way to fund construction projects on the campus, but it’s the only option available to the college.

The average homeowner in the district would only pay about $1 per week for the bond, which he called a “manageable amount,” but the campaign may not have distributed that message well enough, he said.

“There is a skepticism, a concern about property taxes going up,” he said.

A lot of effort went into the bond effort and the Board of Trustees hasn’t talked about the “what-ifs” if it loses and the funding doesn’t materialize, Gaskin said.

SBCC has a prominent role educating local students and the community recognizes that role, she said. 

The college’s Board of Trustees approved a project list for the bond proceeds, though the specific items aren’t included in the ballot measure.

The priority projects include replacing the Campus Center, building a new classroom building and physical education building, replacing the Wake Center campus, renovating the library, and modernizing several buildings on the main campus and Schott Campus.

The district spans from the Gaviota Coast to Carpinteria and Measure S requires a 55 percent majority vote to pass.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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