Measure E: Contra Costa voters to decide on property tax hike for improving college buildings
By Paul Burgarino Contra Costa Times
Ray Pyle, chief facilities planner for the Contra Costa Community College District, looks over the new construction of the cafeteria and culinary building at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. All three Contra Costa Community campuses are in the midst of their largest construction remodels in decades. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)
MARTINEZ -- More than $120,000 has poured into the campaign backing a June bond measure to improve aging Contra Costa Community College facilities, with the lion's share coming from a college foundation.
The Diablo Valley College Foundation has put $50,000 toward Measure E, according to campaign documents filed as of Wednesday with the Contra Costa Elections Division. Officials say some of that is money bequeathed by late trustee Sheila Grilli for the foundation's unrestricted use.
Since opting to put the $450 million measure on the June 3 ballot, district trustees and advocates have been attending political caucuses and city and school board meetings throughout the county to drum up support.
Supporters say Measure E would help maintain quality career training programs and education for the college district's over 55,000 students.
Updating classrooms and technology for students is key to helping Contra Costa remain economically viable and competitive, said Linda Best, retired chief executive officer of the East Bay Leadership Council.
"Community colleges are a cornerstone of the state's plan for higher education, and have become increasingly important as the cost of four-year college has risen substantially," Best said.
Measure E would double the annual amount Contra Costa property owners now pay the district each year from $13 per $100,000 in assessed value to $26. The current amount comes from two similar voter-approved district bond measures in 2002 and 2006 for improvements.
"The reaction has been very positive in general," trustee Vicki Gordon said. "Though some residents are a little tax-weary, they're seeing that our facilities are 45, 55, 65 years old and at the end of their useful life span."
Opponents, including the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, say the bonds would put a financial squeeze on struggling residents and rack up millions in new debt.
"This proposal is too big and expensive," Pleasant Hill resident Wendy Lack said. "This is not free money. It sounds like a nice idea, but we are trying to inform voters what it really means to them."
Alex Aliferis, the taxpayers association's executive director, adds that the district has deferred paying for building maintenance and does not use competitive bidding.
The money would go only toward facilities and not salaries or pension, and spending would be monitored by an independent oversight committee and subject to regular audits, the district says.
Bond proceeds would increase accessibility for those with disabilities, as well as make improvements to campus grounds, classrooms and lab technology. Projects on the table include seismic retrofitting of existing Contra Costa College buildings and a new Science and Allied Health building; renovating Diablo Valley College's Engineering Technology, Music and Performing Arts buildings; and a new Student Activities and Performing Art buildings at LMC.
Funding also would go toward a new campus in Brentwood and expansion of the San Ramon campus.
Part of the DVC Foundation's contribution came by way of an endowment from Grilli, who died in August. Grilli campaigned tirelessly for past district bond efforts.
"It was one of her dreams to reinvest in the district, and this is one way that could really help," Gordon said.
Charitable nonprofits may lobby as long as that activity amounts to only an "insubstantial" amount of its activities, according to federal law. The foundation filed a Form 5768 with the IRS, allowing it to make limited expenditures to influence legislation while subjecting them to an objective "expenditure test."
The amount raised with a month to go is about on par with the district's past fundraising efforts. The 2006 campaign raised $190,000.
Other sizable campaign donations include $10,000 from BFGC Architecture of Bakersfield, $7,500 from Critical Solutions, Inc. of Walnut Creek, and $5,000 from Steinberg Architects of San Jose.
Measure E requires 55 percent approval. A survey of 1,200 likely voters in October found that 67 percent would be in favor.
This will be the district's fifth attempt at a bond. In 1996, a $145 million bond failed to win, along with a $236 million bond in 2000. At the time, both required a two-thirds majority vote.
The Yes on Measure E committee plans on sending out three mailers leading up to the election, including one after absentee ballots go out.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.