Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 19, 2010

Give schools a bigger slice of Shoreline money

Back in 1969, when the state Legislature created a special tax district in Mountain View called the "Regional Shoreline Park Community," no one could have guessed that one day a company called Google would set up shop there and begin reaping billions in yearly profits.

Similarly, no one knew that the value of Shoreline properties would jump from $200 million to more than $3 billion, and pour some $26 million a year in property taxes back into this strategic tax district — in part by diverting that money away from local schools.

The stated purpose of the Shoreline district is to use property taxes to pay for maintenance of Shoreline Park and for improvements in the surrounding industrial neighborhood, an arrangement similar to that of many special districts around the state. And it has worked beyond anyone's expectations, with diverted taxes going to such gems as the Stevens Creek Trail and Shoreline Park, as well as freeway overpasses, fire services and much more.

And there's more to come: In the next few years, the city expects to back $31 million in bonds to build a hotel near the Googleplex, paying them off with funds from the Shoreline tax district.

Over the years, the city has shared a small part of this revenue with local schools, but last week Craig Goldman, chief financial officer of the Mountain View Whisman School District, said he believes it is time for local schools to recoup a larger share. He told the Voice that his district has not been getting the full benefit of taxes paid by high-tech companies in the Shoreline area, a loss he estimates to be more than $5.8 million this year alone. (Another $4.3 million would go to the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District if the special tax district were not in place.)

Not surprisingly, city officials defend the Shoreline Community district, noting that its funds pay for important maintenance at Shoreline Park and the industrial area, which has surely been a factor in attracting so many high-flying companies. City finance director Patty Kong said she doubts the region, a former landfill, would be generating such stellar income in the first place without the tax district's help, and she's surely right.

Meanwhile, city manager Kevin Duggan notes that the city already helps out the school district by maintaining sports fields and other benefits, in addition to funneling $450,000 a year to each district for use in technology-related programs.

At the end of the day, however, the lion's share of Shoreline tax revenue has been going, and will continue to go, to a list of items benefiting the very companies which pay those taxes — and local schools, unfortunately, are not on that list.

It makes sense that city leaders would worry about this money, which has been an important component — arguably the most important component — to Mountain View's financial success. And we join the administrators of Mountain View Whisman in not wanting to upset a city budget so painstakingly balanced by Duggan and his colleagues.

However, one can't ignore the fact that local schools are themselves an important part of the future success of companies like Google, especially if the company is serious, as it claims, about moving more of its employees close to the Googleplex. Many of those high-tech workers are young today, but soon they will be starting families — and looking around for the best schools for their children.

With this is mind, and with Shoreline property taxes at record levels, is it fair — or good long-term planning — to divert so much money away from local schools?

Because this tax district was created through state legislation, there may be technical hurdles to changing its makeup. We believe the city and local school districts, in concert with state Rep. Paul Fong, should begin to investigate what possibilities exist in making the Shoreline district more equitable for all concerned — not just the schools but the city and Shoreline companies as well.

In the meantime, it seems logical that the city would voluntarily begin sharing more of the Shoreline revenue with local school districts, if only to help them out in a time of crisis. Doing so would be for the betterment of all of Mountain View.

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