No one would sign a mortgage that doesn’t detail financial terms, says Andrew Peceimer — who contends ballot language for the $97 million bond proposed by the Burlingame Elementary School District omits key details while the superintendent said the statement is both lawful and standard.
Burlingame resident Peceimer, in a San Mateo County Superior Court filing, asked county Chief Elections Officer Mark Church be prohibited from printing the ballot as now prepared for the March 3 election.
The language provided Church does not give a date when the tax for the bond ends — and language referring to “legal interest rates” of the bond is too vague to meet state law, according to Peceimer.
He said in a separate letter to school district trustees and Superintendent Maggie MacIsaac that ballot language violates state election and education codes.
“Your integrity requires these lapses to be corrected,” he said.
Ballots for the March 2020 election will go to the printer by Jan. 20, Peceimer said.
Superintendent MacIsaac said Monday that the San Mateo Union High School District and other districts in the state use the same ballot language as the Burlingame bond proposal.
“The language is industry standard,” she said.
The attorney for the school district advised that the language meets state law, MacIsaac said in her letter this month to Peceimer.
“Specific market conditions as well as the timing of any bond sales under a successful election can only be estimated at this time,” MacIsaac stated of financial details.
Working within the 75-word limit for the ballot language of the bond, Burlingame school district officials “have sought to be as transparent as possible,” she said.
Peceimer could not be reached for comment Monday about his Dec. 16 court filing asking that ballot materials not be printed as now written for the Burlingame school bond.
Richard Michael, a critic of California school bond measures who testified in 2015 before the Little Hoover Commission about such bonds, said Friday that challenges to ballot language are costly and rare.
“That’s part of the problem,” Michael said.
Court opinions have noted such wording is critical to voters, he said.
“That’s right at the point where they vote,” Michael said.
The Burlingame bond measure’s ballot reference to interest rates doesn’t inform voters, he said.
“Legal rates doesn’t mean anything,” said Michael. “It just means we won’t break the law.”
Michael said a state law passed in 2017 requires more specific ballot language and that Peceimer’s legal challenge to the Burlingame ballot reflects the new state measure.
Michael had told the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, that school bonds get little media coverage in California.
“To most of the people in the state,” he said, “it doesn’t even appear on their news stream.”
“The Kardashians, yes,” Richard added. “Bonds, no.”
Jim Irizarry, assistant chief elections officer, said Monday that the request for the writ has been referred to county counsel. Ballot language has to be resolved by Jan. 3 to print sample ballots in time, he said.
Four of the five Burlingame Elementary School District trustees did not respond to emails sent Monday about the ballot language. Trustee Florence Wong said she did not have any information about the ballot measure language and was referring the matter to the superintendent.
Officials have said the measure is primarily needed to improve aging district facilities, some of which are more than 100 years old. Voters in 2016 previously approved Measure M, a $56 million bond largely designed to update and renovate aging campuses but roughly $300 million in capital improvements have been identified. The measure asks property owners to pay $25 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Superintendent MacIsaac said the district wants to fully inform residents about the school bond.
“We’re watching out for our people in the community,” she said. “As we always do.”
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