Almanac

Viewpoint - March 5, 2014

Editorial: Major bond issues face voters in June

Local voters will have two important decisions before them in the June 3 election when they will be asked to approve bond issues worth more than a half-billion dollars for the Sequoia Union High School District ($265 million) and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District ($300 million).

Many residents are familiar with the high school district bond issue, which has been the subject of numerous meetings in Atherton, Woodside, East Palo Alto and Redwood City about how the district can cope with the huge enrollment bubble that is proceeding through elementary and middle schools.

Just last week a consensus of Sequoia district trustees agreed to go ahead and place a $265 million bond measure on the June ballot to pay for additional classroom space at all four of its high schools — Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, Sequoia in Redwood City and Carlmont, which serves students from San Carlos and Belmont, and Redwood High continuation school. The trustees plan to make the decision formal with a vote this week.

To pass, the bond measure would need the approval of 55 percent of the voters and would cost property owners $16 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. This means a home assessed at $1 million would pay $160 a year in annual property taxes.

In addition to the classrooms, the Sequoia district bonds would pay for two small "magnet" schools that officials say will accommodate about 400 students each. One may be located in the Menlo Park area. We urge the district to provide more detail on its plans before the June 3 election.

Voters may not be as familiar with the needs of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which is seeking $300 million to "expand, enhance and connect regional trails and open space areas, preserve open space and complete restoration areas." This massive bond issue would require two-thirds approval and cost property owners $3.18 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $31.18 for a home assessed at $1 million.

Since the high school and open space districts cover such a wide area, and the tax burden is spread among thousands of households, the cost per taxpayer is relatively low.

The Almanac will take a deeper look at each bond measure, including a $13.5 million bond measure for Woodside Elementary School that's also on the ballot, in an editorial about a month before the election. In our opinion, the Sequoia district has a persuasive argument. Like all public schools, it must open its doors to every high school-age student who lives within its boundaries. The need for additional high school classrooms is made evident by simply counting the number of middle school students who will be eligible for ninth grade in a few years.

Much of this huge enrollment growth is caused by retiring "Baby Boomers" selling their homes to younger residents who are raising young families and sending a lot more children to school.

It will take an entirely different story to sell constituents of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties on the need for $300 million to finance improvements in hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and to restore and conserve watersheds and farm land. We believe everyone can agree that the district has done an incredible job to protect and enhance the magnificent open space we see when we travel on Interstate 280 and Highways 84 and 92 that snake through the Coastal Range to Skyline Drive.

There are 62,000 acres of open space and redwood forests in 26 preserves that offer breathtaking views of the coast as well as access to hundreds of trails administered by the district that are open to the public. It will be a challenge to convince two-thirds of voters to approve the $300 million bond issue, but residents who want to see these areas cared for and preserved should have no hesitation about voting yes on this bond issue.

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