Friday, June 19, 2009

Dysfunction Junction: LA County and Sacramento

The economic crisis in the California budget has put the spotlight on School District funding. With Sacramento pulling monies from schools and cities (Prop 13 "protection" for the voters), local jurisdictions are imposing spiralling taxes and fees. San Marino, as an prime example, is a nexus of County and local interjurisdictional conflict that plays out with expansionist strategies that drive growth in order to generate revenue, creating unsustainable fiscal structures. It has become a model for other local wealthy communities in the money grab. Precedents for this approach are described here. The use of interdistrict transfers allowed under State law are described here.

The map of the SMUSD area above shows how this plays out. SMUSD finally succeeded in mobilizing the parents to pass a large parcel tax last month which is imposed in the district boundaries (purple outline) which officially includes areas outside the city boundaries (blue area). This was done with a problematic mail-in only ballot, and the results were predictably skewed. The District boundaries are officially mapped rather distinctly, but there are areas (in pink) that get "fuzzy" despite battles in the past between districts to prevent annexation of neighborhoods for the revenue (famously Greenwood). These areas are County and also part of the North San Gabriel Neighborhood, a census-designated place (CDP) as defined by the County. The Los Angeles County Committee (LACC) on School District Organization is the overseeing agency for state policies at this level for the schools.

This particular CDP has historically been the San Gabriel Township comprised of Alhambra, Monterey Park (1920, part), Pasadena, Rosemead (1940, part) San Gabriel, San Marino, South Pasadena, Temple City (1940, part) and Wilmar. It is now a defined census tract used in public policy decisions (legislative districts, school districts, police, fire and sheriff, hospital, social and emergency services) at the County level. The CDP shows how the County influence brings to bear the methods used by a small, built-out community to expand its services and footprint in the face of declining enrollment and the flight of young families since the 1980's, due to costs of living here. This includes the Recreation Department and the Library as well as the School District.

How accurate this census is, or will be in the future, is to be determined (the ACORN site is here). The "porting over" of San Marino and La Canada Flintridge to Republican districts after Schiff won the district from Rogan raises issues based upon the 2000 census overseen by the County.

This area has become the major draw for this new business model, which concerns the representation involved with a parcel tax inside SMUSD boundaries that provides regional services; it's now a County model that places REGIONAL burdens on small city resources. For example, the parcel tax does not cover the unofficial school district areas, interdistrict transfers from Pasadena, Alhambra, Sierra Madre, San Gabriel (now being lobbied to continue the "School of Choice" model), families of City and SMUSD employees, and the hundreds of over-65 property owners that are taking advantage of the exemption from the tax - per the San Marino Tribune - used to pass the measure. Thus the burden falls once again on the young families, which are still in decline because of the costs of living in this community. This has led to the SMUSD practice of permitting families to retain their attendance in spite of only renting for one year in the SMUSD area (around 400 in the city itself - 10% of households - despite City regulations to the contrary) after which they relocate to less expensive home rentals in other areas. Hence, there is no incentive to participate in the schools or the community as a dwindling percentage of households actually have children in the schools as the "imported" student body grows.

The burden of this County growth model has the potential of dissolving the community and its connections, historically grounded in families. Without the buy-in of community, it's all business, and this leads to the over development and spiraling costs that degrade the scale and sustainable quality of life that is characteristic of these small communities.