Thursday, December 14, 2006
S.C. Declines to Block Use of School Bond Funds to Construct Gym
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court declined yesterday to review a ruling that the state Constitution does not require that a list of specific projects appear on the ballot in order for the reduced supermajority requirement applicable to school construction bond measures to apply.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously and without comment left standing the ruling by Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal in Committee for Responsible School Expansion v. Hermosa Beach City School District, B188777.
The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Schwab, who has since retired, allowing the Hermosa Beach City School District to use school bond funds to build a gymnasium.
The appellate panel said the proposed gym was among the “list of the specific school facilities projects to be funded” in the bond ballot measure approved by the voters, and thus complied with Proposition 39.
That proposition, approved by voters in 2000, amended the state Constitution to permit school districts, community college districts, and county boards of education to issue bonds “for the construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of school facilities” with the approval of 55 percent of the voters if certain conditions, including the specificity requirement, are met.
Otherwise, the bonds must be approved by a two-thirds majority, just like other local general obligation bond issues.
The Hermosa Beach measure, approved in 2000, provides for $13.6 million in bonds. The school board’s formal resolution adopting the measure, subject to voter approval, had two exhibits attached.
Exhibit A, the text of the ballot measure, listed a number of uses to which the bond money would be put, but made no mention of the gymnasium. Exhibit B, the list of specific projects, included construction of a gym facility “for school and community use.”
The language of Exhibit A appeared on the ballot; that of Exhibit B did not. Measure J was approved with a 65 percent affirmative vote.
In April of last year, a group calling itself Citizens for Responsible School Expansion filed a mandate petition challenging the legality of the use of funds for the gym. It argued that because the facility was not mentioned on the ballot, it did not fall within Proposition 39’s exception to the two-thirds vote requirement.
Schwab, however, ruled that the specificity requirement does not mandate that the list of projects appear on the ballot, and the Court of Appeal agreed.
Justice Kathryn Doi Todd, writing for the Court of Appeal, noted that the relevant statute requires that “[a] brief statement of the proposition, setting forth the amount of the bonds to be voted upon, the maximum rate of interest, and the purposes for which the proceeds of the sale of the bonds are to be used, shall be printed upon the ballot.” There is nothing to suggest that a specific list of projects must appear on the ballot as well, Doi Todd said.
The justice also noted that the ballot pamphlet for the election informed voters that a list of specific projects had been prepared and was available to the public. “These actions satisfied both the express language and intent of the Constitution,” she wrote.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company