City Council

Civic Center Phase I Mail-In Ballot Pitfalls

August 28 Los Altos Bond Measure is to be a Mail-in Ballot
August 28 Los Altos Bond Measure is to be a Mail-in Ballot
Written by lalahpolitico

The Facts: Special August 28 Bond Measure Vote

Los Altos City Council is planning an August 28 special election vote by mail-in ballot  to obtain $65 million to pay for Phase 1 of the Los Altos Community Center Master Plan. They will have to “call” the election by early May.

In early April a consultant/research firm will conduct a “poll of likely [likely?] voters” to see if there is support for paying around $35 per $100,000 of assessed value. If the poll results come in around a statistically significantly 67% positive, the council will probably call the election. One can expect that a draft of the April survey testing bond measure opinion will be made public by late March.

Is there support for paying  $35 per $100,000 of assessed value? $250 a year for the average home

The August 28 bond measure requires 2/3 YES votes to pass. If the survey result is over 66% approving, it is not clear what could derail the Phase I funding “train.” Once the City calls the election, by law it cannot campaign for measure passage.  But there is a plan for a privately funded and managed YES campaign. We expect this group will probably be a subset of the Los Altos Community Center Advisory Committee similar to the one making “educational” presentations to civic and church groups around town in February and March.

 Editorial Comment: Show us the Mailing List

There are pros and cons to special elections conducted 100% by mail. Right now there is no information from the City of Los Altos on exactly who will be mailed ballots.  All registered voters including renters? Property-owners of record? Active voters who voted in the last election, whether at a polling place or by mail?

Right now there is no information from the City of Los Altos on exactly who will be mailed ballots.

Show us the mailing list. Or at least describe it in detail. What is the mailing scheduling plan? In the literature about mail-in only elections, there is considerable concern about the practice of sending ballots only to active voters–registered voters who haven’t voted recently are effectively disenfranchised.

When Mayor Carpenter said “likely voters” we have to wonder what she means.

Turnout for a single issue election like the City of Los Altos is planning is likely to be around 30%.  Mayor Carpenter has stated that August 28 date was selected so that voters could focus on the issue and not be distracted. She said it would have been distracting to include the Phase 1 Bond Measure on the regular June primary election ballot or on the regular November presidential general election ballot.

Of course turnout for June and November could be more like 70% to 80%.  Ask yourself – who does this favor to schedule the ballot measure for Aug. 28?

We know that the November ballot will include Gov. Brown’s measures to raise taxes. The more measures asking for money, the more the public votes NO.  So perhaps the City of Los Altos is just shrewd (not devious)  to take the campaign consultants’ advice to avoid November. (The November election is also is when termed out council members David Casas and Ron Packard will be replaced! Megan Satterlee will be running for a second term.) However, being part of a general election would have been cheaper than a mail-only special election (mail election cost is about $100K according to Mayor Val Carpenter).

We have checked California election law about mailing dates.  For an August 28 vote deadline, the ballots cannot be mailed out any earlier than July 31, and mailing must be completed by August 18.  How many career-driven homeowners with children are taking family vacations in the last 2 weeks of August? Between getting ready for vacation, taking the vacation, and getting ready for the start of school…you get the idea of who is going to be distracted.  So the very people who are going to get the biggest bill for Phase I — the mid-career newcomers with children and with high assessed value — are most at risk of not getting around to voting.

We disagree that August 28 vote date creates fewer distractions and more convenience than the regular June and November elections.

This type of mail-in only ballot process is touted as convenient.  Yes maybe, but it also creates a situation where a “club” of the most active voters can game the system and get other folks to help pay for their pet projects. Myriad possible angles are described by this organization‘s page.  The technique I have seen first hand is relatives, friends, and neighbors “helping” no longer independent seniors fill out their mail-in ballot. Legal? Yeah, if they scrawl a signature. Ethical? Hmmmm. Even if driven to the polls, these persons could not fill out their own ballot in an election booth.  Then there are young adults at college who receive mail-in ballots at home.

In an editorial in the Jan. 11 issue of The Town Crier, editor Bruce Barton has urged  that Los Altos City Council postpone proceeding with the Community Center Plan.

He says the council has lost the public’s trust, and the plan should get fresh looks after the City elects two or three new council members in November. High-five to that! The list of reasons for a fresh look is long.  See “Brochure” page on this site.

Call to Action: One Bruce Barton Editorial
Won’t Stop the Bond Measure “Train”

But perhaps the most compelling reason to hold off is because Los Altos School District seems to need a new site for an additional school.  If the 10% of Los Altos K-6 Kids at Bullis-Charter were to suddenly quit Bullis-Charter and enroll in LASD, guess what?  LASD would need a new school site. With or without the existence of Bullis-Charter, LASD needs a new school. Hillview Community center, purchased by the city from LASD in 1980 could be sold back to LASD.  See the 2-minute clip of John Radford (LAH) asking Mayor Val Carpenter about the possibility.

With or without the existence of Bullis-Charter, LASD needs a new school. Hillview Community center, purchased by the city from LASD in 1980 could be sold back to LASD.

Clearly LASD is going to need a bond measure – probably similar to the $35 per $100,000 of assessed value that Mayor Val Carpenter is asking for to pay for Phase 1 of the Community Center.  If the Civic Center bond were to pass August 28, won’t that negatively affect the vote for a LASD bond in 2013?  It’s true that Phase 1 construction plan does not demolish the Hillview half of the Civic Center site, but it would complicate possible transfer of it to LASD.

So where is the “education” campaign about saying NO to the Community Center 2012 bond measure? One editorial by Bruce Barton is not going to necessarily slow and stop the “train” that Los Altos City Council is sending down the track in.

So where is the “education” campaign about saying NO to the 2012 Community Center bond measure..


Election Reading List:
See the official city brochure about the Los Altos Community Center Master Plan






About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.