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Curbed SF election guide: California’s Proposition 13 schools bond, explained

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What it is, who’s for it, and who’s against it

Mission High School, a mission revival building with an elaborate baroque bell tower. Photo by Fabien CAMBI

Like clockwork, it’s almost Election Day in San Francisco; in fact, early voting has already started for the upcoming California primary election on March 3, 2020.

In additional to the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary, the March vote places a handful of crucial housing and infrastructure propositions on the ballot. We have everything you need to know about every vote you’re being asked to cast, starting with Proposition 13.

What’s the proposal?

Not to be confused with that other Proposition 13, this bond would borrow $15 billion to improve school buildings across the Bay Area and the rest of the state: $9 billion for public K-12 schools and another $6 billion for colleges and universities, with funds put toward renovation, repair, and new construction as necessary.

Who’s behind it?

Proposition 13 started as Assembly Bill 48, originally sponsored by Southern California Representative Patrick O’Donnell and East Bay Sen. Steve Glazer, who argue that the state’s school facilities are outdated, dangerous, and lack facilities for training in technology and vocational fields.

What’s the backstory?

The bill passed the assembly 78-1 and the California Senate 35-4 in 2019, with all Bay Area lawmakers backing the proposal in both houses, and Governor Gavin Newsom signed it in October.

A former teacher, O’Donnell says that aging school buildings are full of “mold, asbestos, seismic safety [dangers], and lead in water,” and decades behind on critical renovations.

Arguments for Proposition 13

Bond boosters say that the state’s public school buildings are in deplorable condition and that California should have acted years ago to address the potential hazards and shortfalls.

Backers cite “poor air and water quality and contamination,” from potentially toxic substances and seismic dangers, and point out that almost all of the state’s school buildings are decades old, and that while the state currently has funds of its own it could contribute to upgrades, outside investment is needed to foot the entire bill.

Arguments against Proposition 13

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association complains that the state already had billions of dollars or surplus, so an expensive new bond shouldn’t be necessary. Bond opponents also allege that the interest on loans is higher than its worth and that it would be more efficient to fund upgrades directly through the state itself, writing off Proposition 13 as simply a tax hike, which they say will create even more debt for local school districts.

Supported by

  • Governor Gavin Newsom
  • Almost the entire California State Assembly and Senate
  • California Teachers Association
  • California Professional Firefighters
  • League of Pissed Off Voters

Opposed by

  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
  • Senators Brian Jones, John Moorlach, Mike Morrell, Jeff Stone, and Assemblymember Jay Obernolte