District bond measure challenged
Court asked to stop June 5 vote to upgrade classrooms, district office
A politically active local man has gone to court to force the Mountain View Whisman School District to remove "misleading" language from literature in support of Measure G — a bond measure the district plans to place on the June 5 ballot.
On March 19, Steven Nelson filed a petition with the civil division of the Superior Court aimed at forcing the elementary and middle school district to change the wording, which was to appear in county-issued voter guides under the pro-Measure G argument.
That bond measure — recently approved by the district's board of trustees — will ask voters to pass a $198 million school bond to pay for various improvements to local educational facilities. The district-drafted argument in favor of Measure G, submitted to the county's registrar of voters, states that improvements are needed for various reasons, including to make schools "safe from asbestos, lead and other hazards."
Nelson's petition alleges that the inclusion of those two words — "lead" and "asbestos" — were included in the argument 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.
"The ballot question contains an unlawful 'misrepresentation' that this court may correct by ordering it's deletion before the ballot question is printed," his petition states.
Nelson acknowledges that traces of lead and asbestos may be found in district buildings. However, he said, none put children in immediate danger; any asbestos is not at risk of becoming airborne and all lead paint is buried under layers of lead-free paint.
Craig Goldman, superintendent of the district, expressed vexation at the lawsuit — noting that it is just another ploy in a series of ploys to thwart the district's plan to move forward with a bond measure that Nelson does not support.
"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."
"We have provided Mr. Nelson with copies of inspection reports that reflect our recent work done on asbestos abatement," as well as a recent report that reflects ongoing asbestos needs.
Those reports, also provided to the Voice show that a number of schools, as well as the main administration office of the district, contain either asbestos or lead. Much of the asbestos was discovered in renovations done to tile and linoleum flooring (in the adhesive underneath the tile), in ceiling tiles and in drywall. Traces of lead were found in window frames and gutter downspouts at Stevenson school.
Nelson has been opposed to the bond measure from the outset, and has made his opinion very clear at a multitude of Mountain View Whisman School District board meetings. In an interview with the Voice he called the bond "a poor expenditure of public money."
Nelson said he is trying to throw a wrench in the spokes of the district's pursuit of the bond measure because he feels not enough community input was sought in planning it. He maintains, however, that he is not against the school district getting more money.
"I always advocate for schools, but it matters for me how the money is spent," he said, noting that while he has fought to get the Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos school boards money in the past, and while he would like to see the local districts get more money, he disagrees with the manner in which the Mountain View Whisman School District has pursued this current bond measure. "It's an OK bond. But we really need a great bond."
Nelson said he is concerned that the district will prioritize the construction of a new district office over remodeling facilities for students.
For his part, Goldman said, the district will not prioritize a new district office.
"Just because the district office is part of the overall facilities improvement plan, doesn't mean that we intend to use bond funds for that purpose," Goldman said. "In light of the many projects that have been identified in the plan, such as safe, efficient and modern facilities for our students, we don't expect to use bond funds for the district office."
Goldman added it is "insulting when individuals try to suggest that our employees are not entitled to the same kind of workplace that every other employer in the City of Mountain View provides."
"It is highly irresponsible for him to take this action against the district and unnecessarily cause expenditures for attorneys and additional staff time when there is no doubt that we need to continue to renovate our facilities and eliminate lead and asbestos," Goldman said.