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Palomar College mulls ballot initiative to seek state bond money

SAN MARCOS — The Palomar College Governing Board is considering voting to authorize bringing a ballot measures to voters which would steer 2 cents in property taxes per every 100 dollars of assessed value of homes in the district to the college for improvement of buildings and facilities.

Bond measures require a 55% or more affirmative vote to become law, an authority derived from Proposition 39, which passed in 2000. For 2020, the bond measure could go on the ballot either in March for the primary election or in November for the general election.

The college has hired the Encinitas-based firm True North Research to do public opinion polling among voters — and TBWB Strategies to work on alongside Truth North on messaging that fits the polling data on passing a bond measure. But at the July 23 Governing Board meeting, the firm said its polling so far suggests mixed opinions among the public for a vote in favor of a bond measure.

In its initial response to the findings in the poll, the Governing Board Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake suggested tabling the bond for the 2020 election cycle and waiting until 2022. But just weeks later at its Aug. 13 meeting, the board discussed the bond again and it will receive a vote on Sept. 10.

Timothy McLarney, president of True North, presented that the firm polled 800 “likely voter” individuals living within the Palomar Community College District, a 2,500-square-mile area. Surveying in Spanish and English, McLarney said that the firm reached out to participants via phone and email.

About 49% of voters, according to True North’s polling, said they would vote “yes” on such a ballot initiative.

True North also polled on what issues resonate most with voters for voting in favor of such a referendum.

At the top was “Protecting the quality of education,” with 83% of those polled saying it was “extremely important” or “very important” to them. Near the bottom was “Maintaining, upgrading classrooms, facilities at local community colleges,” with only 56% of voters calling that “extremely important” or “very important” to them.

McLarney said that True North asks these questions to inform what kinds of messaging should be done in seeking an affirmative vote on bond ballot initiatives.

“It’s always the case that when you talk about facility improvements, they are going to test lower than issues like improving the quality of education,” said McLarney. “And that’s an important reminder that although bonds are about facility improvements, at the end of the day, voters don’t care so much about buildings and facilities, they care about what happens in those buildings and facilities. And in particular, how the improvements that you would fund with a bond are ultimately going to translate into better ability to educate students.”

Jared Boigon, a partner at TBWB Strategies, said that he believes it will take $400,000 to $450,000 to fund an advocacy campaign in favor of getting a bond which would move the dial on the issue.

But Blake, responding to the findings, said she feared that the measure would fail if placed on the ballot in 2020.

“Given the data and the survey results and the heavy lift it will take us to pass a bond, I don’t think the district will be successful,” said Blake, adding that the Palomar College Foundation would be willing to give $250,000 toward the campaign. “And I would hate for them to utilize those funds if we cannot pass the bond.”

Though Blake recommending tabling the bond ballot initiative until the 2022 election cycle at the July 23 meeting, at the Aug. 13 Board of Governers meeting, trustee John Halcón recommended moving forward on pursuing bond money from voters.

“And so we need, in my mind, I think we need to move forward cautiously,” said Halcón. Certainly we need to be asking the hard questions, but I think we need to move forward with a bond to try to get this campus up to 21st century standards.”

Trustee Norma Miyamoto, countering, said that the campus faculty and staff should be consulted before advancing the bond.

“I believe before the board could move forward, we really would need to take the temperature of the campus at large and see if there is a willingness and an energy to have this effort and initiative at this time,” she said.

Trustee Nina Deerfield posited that the college should look at what other bond measures are under consideration in the area, as well, surmising that voters may be wary of too many tax raises appearing on their ballots.

The bond measure will receive further discussion, and then an action vote, at the Governing Board’s Sept. 10 meeting.