Measure K backers fighting to get their message out

Half Moon Bay Review, May 15, 1996

By Stett Holbrook

As the vote on the local $35 million school bond approaches, many Coastside residents remain in the dark about the measure.

In an informal polling of 25 Coastside residents conducted Monday and Tuesday, the majority of those asked about the bond, known as Measure K, said they did not know enough about it to form an opinion. Only seven respondents said they would vote for the bond, while three said they will oppose it.

If past elections are any indication, uninformed voters generally vote no, especially if voting yes is going to affect their pocketbook. With only 20 days until election day, June 4, passage of the bond _ which must garner two-thirds support to pass _ remains uncertain.

Moss Beach resident Dwight Wilson, chair of the Vote K for Kids committee, said the campaign to pass the bond is in full gear. The committee is focusing its efforts on reaching every voter within the Cabrillo Unified School District's boundaries by telephone to sell them on the bond.

"We are going to be on the phones for the next three weeks until our ears drop off," Wilson said Friday. Absent from the campaign are any placards advocating the bond, a move Wilson said he feels many residents appreciate.

So far the committee has contacted 4,000 likely voters and they have 2,500 to go, Wilson said. He reported that about 62 percent of those contacted said they would vote yes, 33 were undecided and 5 percent said they would vote no. Wilson acknowledged they still have a long way to go.

"There are a good number out there who don't even have a clue," he said.

If successful, the bond will remedy what Cabrillo officials say is a dire case of building disrepair and growing class size in the district. Over the next five years, the bond would provide for the modernization and repair of most district schools, the conversion of Cunha Intermediate School into an elementary school, the expansion of Half Moon Bay High School, and the purchase of land for a new middle school and its construction. District consultants say the bond will cost residential and commercial property owners $72 per $100,000 of assessed property value, or, on average, $114 for the owner of a single-family residence.

Many Coastsiders who said they knew too little about the bond to offer an opinion _ 15 in all _ added by way of explanation that they had no children in Cabrillo schools. Because only 20 percent of district residents have school-age children, bond supporters must win over this group if Measure K is to pass.

One Coastside resident who first said she was not familiar with the bond, however, once told of the measure's specifics, said she would support it.

"I'm for it. I think they need it," she said.

In short interviews conducted outside the Half Moon Bay Post Office and Safeway in the Strawflower Village Shopping Center, support for Measure K tended to center on a widely held perception that schools have suffered too long for lack of funds.

"I think it's about time we started putting money behind our schools," said Half Moon Bay's Tim Gleason. "It's not coming from the state so it might as well come out of pocket."

San Gregorio resident Vanna Pichel agreed: "I support it 100 percent, absolutely . . . It's been a long time since we've put in any money in schools. That's why they're in such a state of disrepair."

Another resident who works as a real estate broker said he supports the bond because it will increase property values and it is important for the Coastside at large.

"If we don't pass it, it will hurt the community in the long run . . . Education is the base and the foundation of everything," he said.

Measure K does have its critics. Pauline D'Amato, an elderly El Granada resident, said while she does support education, she had already cast an absentee ballot against the bond. She criticized the facility improvement plan for not making better use of the district's land. The district owns four parcels of land and has considered selling or swapping them to support the district's needs.

D`Amato said she was concerned with a 19-acre parcel in Princeton, a lot she said she would like see developed into a new school rather than sold. No decisions have been made on the district land, but if the bond is passed, a middle school site selection committee will be formed. Wilson said the Princeton site may be considered at that time.

Betty Stone, a Half Moon Bay resident and San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner, said she opposes the bond because it does not go far enough, calling it a "band-aid." Rather than focus solely on the school district's needs, Stone said a better plan would take a wider view and deal with issues of zoning and land use, which would necessitate looking at the county's Local Coastal Program, the blueprint for Coastside growth and development.

A walk through district schools reveals no immediate health or safety threats, but a series of small problems that add up to a general state of dilapidation and overcrowding. Dry rot runs through many of the Half Moon Bay High School's roofs. The gym's floor is warped. Many schools have inadequate or non-existent intercom systems. Sewers often back up. At Cunha Intermediate School, many classrooms have only one electrical outlet, a situation that makes running computers difficult. Perhaps more pressing than the need for school repairs is class size.

The district currently has a total of 3,629 students. As a particularly large number of pre-school and elementary school students work their way through the district, that number is projected to grow to 5,521 by the year 2010. District facilities have a capacity for 4,170 students, a number that will be exceeded by 1,351 in less than 15 years, trustees say. In addition, approximately 570 students are now housed in portable facilities, which have a shorter life than permanent structures.

Should the bond pass, it would freeze class size where it is, Wilson said. To reduce class size and pay for additional programs, voters would likely be asked to approve a parcel tax, he said.

Although the bond will not address all the district's needs, such as increasing course offerings or expanding existing programs, Wilson said the bond will go a long way to digging the district out of its hole of overcrowding and depreciation. Wilson said support for Measure K must come down to a question about what priorities voters have for public education. And just as important, he said, residents must ask themselves: "What are we as a community willing to pay for it?"

Half Moon Bay Review