Mountain View Voice

News - April 6, 2012

Judge halts challenge to school bond

by Nick Veronin

A judge with the Santa Clara County Superior Court has stopped a local man's legal action against Mountain View's elementary- and middle-school district, an official with the district said.

On Monday, April 2, Judge Kevin McKenney denied Steve Nelson's application for an order shortening time for filing as well as his motion for the issuance of a writ of mandate, said Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Nelson sought to force the Mountain View Whisman School District to change the language of the supporting literature for Measure G — a $198 million parcel tax-supported bond for improving schools set to appear on the June 5 ballot. According to Nelson, the district was trying to scare the public into supporting the measure by overstating the risk of asbestos and lead at district schools.

When reached by the Voice, Nelson said he had no comment on the denial of his challenge.

Nelson's challenge was denied for not being timely, because the district presented evidence countering Nelson's claims and a "petitioner's belief is an inadequate basis for a writ," according to Judge McKenny's notes, which Goldman sent to the Voice.

The district-drafted argument in favor of Measure G, submitted to the county's registrar of voters and set to appear in voter guides, states that the $198 million bond is needed to make improvements and upgrades to schools and facilities throughout the district for various reasons — including to make schools "safe from asbestos, lead and other hazards."

Nelson's maintained that the inclusion of those two words — "lead" and "asbestos" — was intended to "purposefully mislead" the public. He claims that the school board has greatly exaggerated the risk posed by asbestos and lead paint in older school buildings as a scare tactic aimed at garnering voter support.

Goldman denied all of Nelson's accusations, and said district lawyers made their case to the court and McKenney put a stop to Nelson's legal action.

Measure G, should it pass, will be supported by area homeowners who would pay up to $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value. It requires a yes vote of 55 percent to pass. It would come on top of Measure C, the eight-year, $3 million voter-approved parcel tax that went into effect in 2009. Depending on parcel size, property owners are assessed anywhere from nearly $150 to over $1,000 a year under Measure C.

For his part, Nelson said he was never opposed to the school district getting that money. Nor was he against the taxpayers footing the bill. Nelson insists he only felt the community needed to be more involved in the process of deciding how the money would be spent.

Nelson complained that the district never put together a "7-11 committee" — a board composed of local citizens who would review the district's plans and ensure that the money generated from the bond measure was earmarked for projects the community agreed with. Though the district is not required to assemble such a committee before asking voters for a parcel tax, Nelson said, "It is best practices."

Goldman said it seemed that Nelson simply wanted to throw a wrench in the spokes of the process for some other reason. Goldman noted that Nelson had attacked the bond measure using other rhetoric before abandoning it to settle on the "lead and asbestos" argument.

"Mr. Nelson has let us know that he's willing to do anything to deny our students access to safe efficient and modern facilities," Goldman said. "This latest action demonstrates his willingness to file a frivolous lawsuit in order to impede the district's ability to renovate and upgrade student classrooms and facilities."

Goldman noted that fighting the lawsuit cost the district many hours of administrative and clerical time — gathering documents, hiring a law firm and having discussions with attorneys.

Nelson defended his legal action.

"I always advocate for schools, but it matters for me how the money is spent. ... "(This is) an OK bond. But we really need a great bond," he said.

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