Solano County’s Measure Q Looks Vulnerable to Defeat: Will Voters Refuse to Authorize Solano County Community College to Borrow $348 Million Through Bond Sales?

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What happens when you live in an elite socio-intellectual enclave where everyone agrees with your worldview? You’re shocked when you discover ordinary people who disagree with your plan to take and use their money. I suspect that’s the reason why Measure Q in Solano County (in the San Francisco Bay Area, stretching toward Sacramento) is now vulnerable to defeat.

Measure Q authorizes the Solano County Community College District to borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds to wealthy individuals and institutional investors. Solano County taxpayers will need to pay this $348 million back, plus interest payments. (It’s not free money.)

In November 2002, 55.6% voters in Solano County barely approved Measure G, which authorized the Solano Community College District to borrow $124.5 million for construction by selling bonds. (The threshold for approval was 55%.) The governing board then voted 6-1 in April 2004 to force contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council to work on Solano County Community College District projects funded by proceeds from bond sales authorized by Measure G. This union deal received ample news media attention and public criticism.

Despite these warning signs, the people now pushing Measure Q obviously were unprepared for aggressive opposition. The Yes on Q campaign is apparently relying on rudimentary campaign web sites (www.solanocollegeyesonq.com and www.facebook.com/YesOnQSolanoCollege) and endorsements from local politicians to win over Solano County voters. The Vacaville Reporter criticized the backers of Measure Q in an October 13 editorial:

Where in the world is the campaign for Solano Community College’s Measure Q? And what does it say that the college faculty this week sponsored a voter registration drive and campus forum on statewide ballot measures but not, according to its press release, on the local bond?

Perhaps this lack of action from unions explains why Measure Q supporters are pressuring chambers of commerce in cities such as Vallejo to support this tax increase. (See Chamber Seeks to Avoid Controversy on Measure Q – Vallejo Times-Herald – October 14, 2012).

The identities of the big backers of Measure Q are no surprise: it’s the Napa and Solano Counties Central Labor Council, with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council and its various construction trade unions.

I think Solano County’s top union officials will need to call some bond brokers and other financial services firms in New York City and get some more money for mailers and KUIC radio commercials, quick! In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in the campaign against the $348 million (plus interest) Measure Q:

According to an October 11 article in the Vacaville Reporter (Solano County Taxpayers Association Issues Their Proposition Recommendations), the Solano County Taxpayers Association opposes Measure Q because it is “a 40-year dream for the college that includes buildings that were listed on the previous bond that is still unpaid.”

The Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group is opposing Measure Q, as reported in Opponents Mobilize Against Local Tax Measures – Fairfield Daily Republic – October 4, 2012. As reported in an October 20, 2012 article in the Fairfield Daily Republic (Aging, Limited Facilities at Heart of Solano College Bond Effort), “opponents and Trustee Catherine Ritch have questioned the timing of the bond, saying there are still aspects of the planning that need to be done. A formal opposition was recently formed to Measure Q by the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group, which said the bond isn’t specific enough and some of the projects won’t directly benefit students.”

Here’s what the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group posted on its web site about Measure Q:

Make no mistake: This is a huge tax! For what purpose? We start by asking, What did the district do with the $125 million bond measure passed 10 years ago? Why weren’t “earthquake/fire safety code” issues taken care of then? Next, Why are computers and office equipment in the bond? Such things will be obsolete and discarded in a few years; but we’ll be paying for them for decades. Now look at the objectives listed. Notice how vague they are. No specific projects. No timetable. Measure Q is a blank check for almost anything the board wants to do. Finally, we’re still paying for the last bond, and will be for another 20 years. Measure Q will double or triple what you’re paying now, and for 40 years. Everyone will pay: individuals, businesses, even renters when the landlord adds the tax – yes, it’s a tax – into your rent. Remember, Solano Community College was on probation for administrative issues – like accounting for funds – and is still on the “warning” list. Don’t you have doubts about handing over so much money? Don’t you think we’re taxed more than enough already? Vote NO on Measure Q.

On October 17, the 6-1 tax-and-spend majority on the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District was stunned when someone actually showed up in their lair in Vallejo to speak out against their agenda. Here is a report from Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction:

The meeting began at 6:30 p.m., and other than the Trustees, the room contained only a few staff and a reporter for the college newspaper. This is how entities like this prefer it: no public oversight and never having to answer to the public for their actions or lack thereof. They just want your tax dollars with zero accountability. Government defined.

Last night, however, these Trustees were held accountable to the public at least for 3 minutes while I explained in great detail why it is they did not deserve to be given any more tax dollars in the form of construction bond money.

I reminded them that in 2004 the Solano Community College Governing Board placed a union-crafted Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on Measure G bond work. The $124.5 million Measure G had been passed by voters in 2002 with no hint that a controversial PLA would be used. The PLA vote occurred despite vigorous opposition from local contractors and contractor associations such as ours.

For the new Trustees who weren’t on the board at that time, I explained how PLAs force workers to pay union dues, pay into union pension plans, be hired through a union hiring hall, and explicitly forbid non-union apprentices from working at all. I did thank them in that because of their actions, and others, PLAs had become so controversial that they have been banned in 11 entities in California including the City of San Diego, where in June citizens voted 58%-42% to forbid them.

I also reminded then that at the time of their vote in 2003 the College’s own construction manager told the board a PLA would add 5-15% to the cost of any project. Last summer, I further explained, the most comprehensive study on Project Labor Agreements ever conducted was released by the National University System Institute for Policy Research and found PLAs add 13-15% to the cost of a project. What that means for SCCD was their $124.5 million bond was reduced by up to $24 million in value.

Finally I stated that SCCD now wants another bond, this time for $348 million. The reason? Measure G wasn’t large enough to cover their needs. I asked them if they thought they could have used that extra $24 million they wasted under a PLA.

I left them with the promise that my editorial that ran in the county’s newspapers (We Deserve the Entire Story on Measure QVallejo Times-Herald – October 13, 2012 and PLAs a Waste of MoneyVacaville Reporter – October 14, 2012) was just the opening salvo in what would be an escalating campaign to educate voters about why they need to think twice before giving any more money to this college. Two of the three board members who were on the board in 2003 and who voted for the PLA (Honeychurch and McCaffery) and who are still on the board were less than thrilled to have me there calling them out.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction issued a press release on October 17 in conjunction with this public comment: Solano Community College District Trustees Being Called Out Tonight About Their Plans to Place New $350 Million Construction Bond Under a Union-Friendly Project Labor Agreement.

Finally, a professor in the Solano Community College engineering and physics department is perplexed by the college board’s logic in trying to borrow another $348 million for construction: Concerns About Measure QVacaville Reporter – October 14, 2012 and Measure Q IssuesVallejo Times-Herald – October 10, 2012. Give her a Profile in Courage award.

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