Proponents rally behind Prop. 47
Bond measure on November 5 ballot would fund major seismic improvements, other UC projects

By Jonathan King, Public Affairs

16 October 2002 | A bevy of planned construction and renovation projects for all ten campuses of the University of California are dependent for some or all of their funding on the passage of Proposition 47 on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Though passage of the $13-billion bond act faces little organized opposition, its proponents are keeping an eye on public-opinion polls and other indicators of voter sentiment as what some believe will be a low-turnout election draws near.

Formally known as the Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2002, Prop. 47 is intended to benefit primarily K-12 facilities throughout the state, with nearly 90 percent of proceeds earmarked to both modernize existing schools (addressing safety and conservation priorities, among other concerns) and construct new ones (to address overcrowding and population growth).

Higher education would receive $1.65 billion of the total, with about a quarter of that amount going to the University of California.

Projects on the Berkeley campus slated to receive Prop. 47 funding are seismic safety corrections for Hertz Hall, “seismic mitigation” for Stanley Hall, and additional seismic corrections to Doe Library.

In the case of Stanley Hall, though the work to be funded by Prop. 47 is being called mitigation, the total amount funded ($16.7 million) will go toward construction of a replacement building, in an amount equal to that which would have been spent addressing the current building’s seismic retrofitting, had the campus chosen that option.

“Both of these buildings are compromised by basic structural flaws as well as their proximity to the Hayward Fault,” says Thomas Koster, assistant vice chancellor for capital budget and planning, who notes that both buildings are classified as having a “poor” seismic rating.

In the case of Hertz, strengthening the connection between the west wing roof and the main building, and bracing certain interior elements, would bring the building up to a “good” rating. For Stanley, the campus plans to make the replacement building a centerpiece of interdisciplinary research and teaching as part of Berkeley’s Health Sciences Initiative. The existing building would have needed a significant seismic retrofit, improvements in its communications infrastructure, and remedies for many deferred-maintenance concerns. The campus will address all these needs with the replacement building, plus meet programmatic needs for additional space for the biological and biomedical sciences.

Many supporters,few public opponents
Endorsers from many sides of the political spectrum have backed Proposition 47 — they range from the Gray Panthers, the Association of Mexican American Educators, and Sen. Barbara Boxer to the California Chamber of Commerce, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the California Taxpayers’ Association. The steering committee of Yes on 47, the proposition’s primary advocacy group, includes officials from the state NAACP, the California Teachers Association, and the California Labor Federation, in addition to UC President Richard Atkinson and California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed. The UC Board of Regents has also endorsed the measure.

Among the groups that have publicly opposed the measure is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which describes itself as California’s largest taxpayer-advocacy organization. The organization’s president, Jon Coupal, told the Berkeleyan that his group is opposing not just Prop. 47 but all bonds on the November ballot, because of the “structural deficit situation” in California.

“We all recognize that there are some very significant infrastructure needs for the state of California,” says Coupal. “But California has the worst credit rating of any state in the union, one level above junk status. At $13 billion, Prop. 47 is the largest statewide bond in American history, which is something I’m not sure the average voter recognizes. It’s too much money, and it’s horrible timing.” Coupal says his group likens passage of Prop. 47 to “someone who has just lost their job going out and running up their MasterCard bill.”

So far, public opinion is running in favor of Prop. 47, although the margin has shrunk since the summer. A Field Poll released in September showed 54 percent of likely voters in favor of the bond measure, down 4 percent from July. A third of those polled opposed the measure, with 13 percent undecided.

The measure’s proponents are mindful of those numbers, as well as of one as-yet unknowable statistic: how many voters will simply stay home on Nov. 5.

“The biggest challenge will possibly be voter turnout,” says UC Regent John Moores. “Low-turnout elections — which this one is predicted to be — traditionally attract more conservative, older, and Republican voters. Our message to them has to be that this represents an important investment in California’s economic future, one that will create tens of thousands of new jobs.”

At the same time, Moores says, the projected low turnout “makes it all the more important that UC faculty, staff, students, and alumni take time to cast their votes.”

The economy’s impact?
The current economic downturn is also on proponents’ minds. Says Moores: “Public-works bond [measures] historically do not do well during times of economic and budgetary uncertainty.” That theme is one that resonates for Coupal of the Jarvis Taxpayers Association, who says, “If I were on the pro side of this measure, the general economic health of California would give me some concern. People may finally begin to grasp the size of the numbers under discussion here.”

And if fiscal conservatism rules the day, and Prop. 47 is defeated in November, what will become of the projects whose completion awaits such substantial funding? “That defeat would mean only further financial uncertainty for UC,” says Regent Moores, referring to cuts sustained by the university in the recently passed state budget. “The governor still must cut state spending by an additional $750 million, some of which no doubt will come from [further] cuts to the UC budget.”

That’s why passage of Prop. 47 is so important, Moores says, not just for Berkeley and the other UC campuses, but for all of California’s schools and students. “The young people using today’s K-12 classrooms will soon be applying to study on our campuses,” he says. “We’re determined to provide those students the same high-quality education and research experience as previous generations of Californians have enjoyed. But to do that, we need more classrooms, safer buildings, and modernized facilities, so that we can adequately prepare workers to compete in the modern workplace.”

Seen that way, he concludes, Prop. 47 “isn’t just a measure to improve education in California – it’s also a way to help improve the state’s economy.”

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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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