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Planning for Reality: Dispelling the Dispelling

Marin League of Women Voters’ Report Mistates Its Own Data

Executive Summary

The League of Women Voters (“LWV”) is a wonderful organization that plays a crucial role in our democratic society.  They stand for “An honest and respectful sharing of ideas is vital to the functioning of American democracy.”

At the same time, LWV states, “We are passionate advocates – both women and men – who work to influence policy on specific issues by speaking out and putting pressure on our elected leaders

Recently, LWV of Marin County released a publication entitled “Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Affordable Housing”.  The report does not claim to be endorsed by their national organization, and its cited authorities fully exclude those that have differing views.

Rather than a sharing of ideas, this report is one-sided advocacy of affordable housing.  And that is fine.  However, the report makes many conclusions unsupported…or even contradicted… by the very sources they seem to cite.   “Apples and oranges” are often a factor.

This blog posting provides a summary of fundamental flaws or errors in the League of Women Voters’ report.

Crime

LWV claims a Washington DC report LWV shows no increase in crime in nonprofit-owned and managed properties.  In fact, the cited report makes no mention of nonprofit-owned and managed properties.

LWV claims a Novato police presentation demonstrated affordable housing does not increase crime.  However, the numbers the police presented reveal that the only two affordable housing projects within the report averaged two police service calls each year per household.  The frequency was more than double the rate of multi-family housing that was not deed restricted, and presumably much higher than single family homes.

Although LWV claims the situation later changed, their report provides no data whatsoever in support of such a claim.

Affordability of Market Rate Housing

LWV’s entire study presupposes that families have only one wage earner, and then demonstrates that such a family cannot afford a middle price range apartment in Marin.  It does not address affordability by families with two working adults, or affordability of apartments priced below the middle price range.

Impact on Home Values:

The study provided by LWV to claim that affordable housing does not lower surrounding property values is a study that extended the radius to dilute the results, and has nearly no data about property values within one-quarter mile of the affordable housing.  Further, the study only covers sales occurring between 1987 and 1992.  No data from the past 20 years is included.

Impact on Schools and Home Values

LWV concedes that affordable housing does not pay the basic 1% ad valorem property tax, and that their impact on schools is exempt from environmental review.  But LWV remains silent on who is then going to pay for San Rafael to build two new elementary schools and one new high school that will be necessary for 1,500 new students in San Rafael’s two Priority Development Areas (PDAs).

Dixie school district also faces a very serious decline in revenues with the buildout of Marinwood Plaza with 82 units made up of 88% low income and affordable units, with the Housing Plan utlimately having district 1 absorbing 546 units. Bridge Housing estimates that each household will have 2 school age children. The additional children will result in the following impact:

  • Class sizes will cross thresholds whereby Dixie loses “Basic Aid” status resulting in a loss of 16% of current funding
  • Instead of receiving $9,800 per year per student from property taxes the developer will pay a one-time mitigation fee of $200,000 and a total (not per student) of $9,800 annually

The author’s experience when he first moved to San Rafael about 8 years ago is that houses in the Dixie school district were priced $50,000 or more above equivalent houses outside of the district, because of the quality of the schools. With the above major impacts it should be left to the judgment of the reader to assess whether house prices will be affected.

Urban Legend

LWV claims affordable housing is needed to stop urban sprawl, but fails to state where urban boundaries are allegedly sprawling, or could sprawl, in Marin County.

Traffic Congestion

LWV claims that we will reduce traffic congestion by increasing the county’s population.  They fail to identify how that would moderate the driving patterns of existing residents.

The report further claims on page 7 that traffic delays in Marin increased 55% in a 4-year window 5 to 10 years ago, but does not show this period is representative.  If a reliable sample, it would mean that from 1993 to 2013, Marin traffic delays today are 900% greater than in 1993.  This is inaccurate.

Relocating Marin’s workers who live out of county only reduces traffic if once here they do not drive and the people who move into their old out-of-county homes do not also seek employment here, starting the commute cycle all over again.

Conflict of Interest

The Marin Independent Journal reports that this LWV report was in fact principally authored by Judy Binsacca.  Not disclosed within the LWV report is the fact that Ms. Binsacca is chair  of Ecumenical Housing, also known as EAH Housing.  

EAH has developed $1 billion worth of affordable housing projects, and has annual cash management of $95 million.  Clearly, EAH has a vested interest in the promotion and expansion of the affordable housing market. 

Irrespective of whether Ms. Binsacca as chairperson is paid or a volunteer, she has a vested interest in high density housing getting implemented in Marin County.  Arguably, the League knew or should have known about this relationship, and looked for someone outside the housing industry to write their report.  Alternatively, they should have placed special emphasis on fact checking the report before it was released, which fact checking was insufficient as the following report will now show.

Analysis of “Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Affordable Housing”

As will be shown, an objective analysis shows that rather than dispel myths, the League of Women Voters (“LWV”) perpetuates their own myths.

Crime

LWV writes on page 8: 

”There are no studies or evidence that show an increase in crime or the presence of criminals when nonprofit-owned and managed housing developments are introduced into a neighborhood. "

Source: Richard M. Haughey, “Higher Density Development: Myth and Fact”; Washington D.C.; Urban Land Institute 2005”

 A reading of Mr. Haughey’s report makes it instantly clear:  It actually never discusses nonprofit-owned and managed housing developments.  It is merely a comparison of high density housing versus low density housing, irrespective of whether it is profit or nonprofit, affordable or market.

When LWV concedes that other nonprofit housing has had criminal activity problems, they attempt to differentiate it.   They say that Marin affordable housing is for people who want to remain in Marin and want to live where they work.  However, they do not provide a citation or source to show this is not just speculation or hope.  In short, even with their own evidence that affordable high density housing has created criminal problems, they do not concede anything contrary to the goal of promoting this housing plan. 

For support of their Novato claim, LWV attributes data presented to the city council by former police chief Joseph Kreins.

A review of his actual presentation (see images attached to this article) shows it was not limited to nonprofit owned and managed housing developments.  Rather, Chief Kreins was reporting on multi-family housing in total, including only two affordable (“deed restricted”) housing projects coupled with eight other housing projects.  Of these ten total locations, the affordable housing rental units were 60% more likely to have police calls than other multi-family housing.

What LWV inadvertently proves is that affordable housing has a substantially higher frequency of police calls than does other housing.  In fact, during 2009 to 2010, more than 3% of all Novato police calls city-wide concerned just two buildings – Wyndover and Bay Vista …1,367 police calls for just two addresses…and these were the only two affordable rental housing projects in a city of 50,000 residents. 

Stated another way, each affordable housing apartment generated an average of 3.9 police calls over the two years, compared to only 1.7 calls for high density housing that was not affordable rentals.[3]

While the presentation did not report on single family dwellings, it is probable that the average Novato single family home calls the police less than once every two years.  Compared to the two non-profit affordable housing complexes over two years averaging nearly 4 police calls for each apartment, the numbers tend to suggest that crime rates in nonprofit affordable housing are notably higher.

LWV claims this situation subsequently improved, yet they provide no statistical data to support this conclusory claim.  Perhaps such data truly exists, and perhaps it does not.  But the bottom line is that LWV stated a conclusion yet the only data they provided contradicts their conclusion.

But should the community be concerned about police calls or is it more important to focus on arrests?  What percentage of arrests come in the vicinity of non-profit affordable multi-family rental homes in Novato…whether resulting from service calls, patrol or investigation?  The question of arrests addresses crime itself, and it is for crime statistics that LWV remains silent.

Marin County Supervisor candidate Toni Shroyer further notes:

“It is important to note, corporate nonprofit housing does not pay any real estate taxes for 55 years, hence not paying for any of the police services that are needed.”

Affordability of Market Rate Housing

Page 3 states that two-thirds of all Marin employees earn less than the $55,176 annual income needed to rent a median one-bedroom apartment.

When discussing “affordability” the following should be considered:

1)      Many families have at least two workers, such as spouses, and do not depend on one spouse’s income alone to pay the rent.  Thus, even if two-thirds of employees earn less than $55k/yr, unstated is what percentage of families earn less than $55k/yr for total household income. 

2)      If people cannot afford median housing, up to half of all rental units in Marin are cheaper than median.  The inability to afford the median apartment does not say whether employees can or cannot afford Marin entry level housing.

3)      If the issue is that families cannot afford to live in Marin with one breadwinner, welcome to 21st Century America.  Most families need a 2nd paycheck these days, all across the nation, because real wages have declined over the past half century, resulting in the concentration of wealth in the top 1%.  Many Marin residents depend on two earners in order to afford rent and mortgage payments.

Talking about “…middle class families who could buy a house elsewhere” is apples-and-oranges because it considers only one family member’s wages.  By example, they say a preschool teacher earns $37,250.  If so, a middle class family with two preschool teachers makes $74,500, and can live comfortably in Marin without us building any new housing.  Problem solved.


Studies cited by LWV do not actually state what LWV attributes to them

Page 6 has double-speak wording:

“One such study states that no study in California or elsewhere has ever shown that affordable-housing developments reduce property values.”

Consider:

  1. This quote does NOT say that no study showed affordable housing reduced values.  It says that one study claims that no study found it. 
    Unstated by LWV, they are discussing a study covering home sales 1987 to 1992.  More than 20 year old data!  This reports a period when few people had an email address, Bill Walsh was coaching the 49ers, and floppy discs were still floppy.  It is unclear as to how relevant this data would be.  Since then we had the boom of the 90s and the real estate collapse in 2008. It could be valid, but clearly it could also be too outdated to be reliable.

  2. The underlying study itself was sponsored by BRIDGE Housing, an advocate of affordable housing, so not quite a neutral observer.  The BRIDGE report often uses the offensive name-calling term “NIMBY”, which also implies the authors were not neutral scientists.  Their study of property values concerned home sales up to 1 mile of BRIDGE Housing: .  Their claimed point is that property values did not plunge within the one mile radius of affordable housing.   But only a TINY percentage of this study’s sales were in the immediate vicinity of the BRIDGE Housing.    By example, they reference Gateway Commons in San Mateo, and analyze 480 home sales.  How many of those 480 sales were within one-quarter mile of the subject high-density housing?  One.

This is the most extreme example, but the ratios remain unreliable throughout.  However, here is a list of ALL properties in the “one study” and the number of homes reported: 

Coleridge Park Homes - 384 sales, only 40 (10%) within 1/4 mile of affordable housing

Holloway Terrace - 612 sales, only 61 (10%)  within 1/4 mile

Pacific Oaks - 295 sales, only 18 (6%) within 1/4 mile

Magnolia Plaza - 136 sales, only 7 (5%) within 1/4 miile

Gate Commons - 480 sales, only 5 (1%) within 1/4 mile

Heritage Park - 900 sales, only 14 (2%) within 1/4 mile

Total: Of 2,818 sales only 145 (5%) were within 1/4 mile of affordable housing. 

In short, the study expanded the radius from the high density housing until the impact was fully diluted, yet failed to report on the subset of impact in property values within ¼ mile.  

The study makes a conclusory statement that properties very close to the high density property did better than those further away.  However, this 20-year old study, which clearly had plenty of empirical data at its fingertips, failed to cite any specific data to support that claim.

Further, the report fails to explain why there are so many fewer houses selling near high density housing than further away.  Perhaps there are fewer single family homes nearby.  Perhaps there are such homes but the sellers could not get out for the right price because there was now high density housing nearby.  The bottom line is that this is not a survey of home values or appraisals and how they are or are not affected by affordable housing.  This is merely a report on houses that actually closed a sale in the years leading through the 1991 recession.

This is a relevant area to explore because Northgate City, starting when San Rafael approved Northgate Mall increasing to 5 stories to build apartments on top of the shopping mall, is directly across the street from the residential neighborhood starting at 475 Nova Albion.  It seems implausible that a 5-story urban village mixed-use complex with substantial low income housing would not lower Nova Albion property values, no matter what this 20-year old study claims. 

Urban sprawl

The LWV report discusses the goal of stopping urban sprawl.  Stop for a moment and think this one through.  Who is sprawling Urbana in Marin County?  If not for ABAG, isn’t Marin pretty much done sprawling?  Marin hit and protected its development walls.  This Slow Growth county is not at risk of encroaching onto our agrarian estates.  There is no urban sprawl problem in Marin except for the ABAG demand that Marin continue to build.

Urban sprawl is a problem of the OTHER counties, and Plan Bay Area insists that Marin solve that problem for them, by helping the other counties relocate their population to Marin, leaving our cherished heritage of Slow Growth as nothing more than roadkill. 

Traffic congestion

Page 7 claims that from 2004 to 2008 Marin freeway delay increased 55%.  If you use Highway 101, do you feel there has been a 55% delay increase in that 4-year window AND that such rate of increase has not abated today?

Note that a 55% increase in a 4-year period is representative, from 1993 to 2013 the freeway delay on 101 would have had to increase 895%.  There was plenty of delay in 1993, but it is not nine times worse today.  The LWV reporting period (55% in four years) clearly is an anomaly when projected into long term rates.

Yet relevance is also unclear.  Precisely how does high density housing reduce traffic when none of the existing homes that have these cars is going to be torn down?   The underlying claim seems to presuppose that Marin is going to increase its population even if it does not build new homes.  That fundamental proposition is unsupported by proof.  Rather, logic suggests that supply is the determinative factor in population size.  If the housing supply remains stable or grows slowly, the population would do the same.

Page 7 continues by telling about how high density housing reduced the use of cars.  It compares how we drove in 2006 and how we drove in 2035.  But…it is not 2035 yet.  These are merely projections.  That is fine, but understand they are speculative rather than being proof of any result.

LWV reports that poor people have fewer cars than rich people.  That is a reasonable conclusion.  However, that should apply regardless of whether poor people are living in high density or low density housing.

From Page 8:

“Finally, it cannot be stated too often that, by building affordable housing near public transit and near where people work, traffic congestion will be reduced, compared with new development not located near services, transit and employment.”

Again, for Marin this presupposes that somewhere there is land for “new development” that is not located near services, etc.  But our land is already built up, and unless our protections on farm and open space give way, there is no real risk of any significant new developments.

The premise of the theory that urbanization reduces use of cars does make sense in San Francisco, New York City, etc.  Marin County does not have the population size to support transit solutions that make it work for those mega-cities. 

Some in the rampant growth movement claim there are 45,000 workers who commute daily to Marin County, and if these commuters lived in high density housing near SMART and other transit, they would not drive to work.  Whether this theory is valid is a separate question.  However, when discussing the relocation of 45,000 commuters this would be a good time for the rampant growthers to tell the people of Marin exactly just how many new homes they want to build here.  Marin has only perhaps 100,000 homes at present.  It does not seem there is space to build 45,000 new homes for commuters unless the county is fully urbanized and/or we eventually develop our cities into 10 to 20 story apartment buildings.

And here is the underlying problem with ABAG/MTC affordable housing as a transit plan rather than only a housing plan for our poor:  When there are people willing to drive a longer distance to get a better paycheck, and you move them into affordable housing, you do not necessarily terminate their willingness to drive for a better paycheck.  Joey Vallejo no longer commutes Vallejo-San Rafael because now Joey lives in San Rafael.  But maybe he is willing to commute San Rafael-San Francisco for a bigger paycheck.  Maybe not.  He is already conditioned and willing for that commute time.  LWV makes a conclusory statement presented as indisputable fact when, in reality, it is their speculation.

Further, if Joey Vallejo then works in San Francisco, Frankie Fairfield might move to Joey’s old home in Vallejo and take Joey’s old job in San Rafael.  Then, in the name of reducing emissions, they are doubled instead.  Even if only 50% of the Joey Vallejos continue to commute, that would still offset all the gains made by the other 50% who move and stay put.  Affordable housing occupants cannot be evicted solely because they change jobs.  But if affordable high density transit housing is the basket into which all resource eggs are put, and it does not deliver the results promised, Marin may not have additional revenues available to work on real solutions to our problems.

Schools

On page 9, LWV essentially admits that affordable housing will not be paying for new schools, and that there is nearly one child for every unit (1,085 children in 1185 multi-family units). This number per unit is much lower - Bridge Housing estimates 2 children per unit.

Some dispute those numbers, but taking the LWV numbers as accurate:  If San Rafael’s Civic Center Station Plan is built, San Rafael can expect nearly 600 new children from 620 units, and from that probably 500 new public school students.  Add another thousand students for the downtown San Rafael PDA, and suddenly there are 1,500 new students.  This would require San Rafael to build two new elementary schools and one new high school. The median cost of a new high school in California is $89,012,856 (source: on page 16 of this School Construction Report) just for the structure, add in land and maybe another $50m,  then there's a $2m EIR. A middle school is a meager $39,944,790 and an Elementary schools $36,276,277. These are median costs so likely under estimate the land and construction costs in Marin. The costs of schools are born over 40 years.  Regardless, the impact on taxpayers of the Civic Center PDA is likely to be in the vicinity of an additional $300- $500 property taxes per household. This will be paid via  special assessments or school bonds - residents of affordable or low income housing will be exempted from these costs.


But as LWV notes, building new schools is not an expense that can be charged to tax exempt homes and:

“…the (affordable housing) project may not be denied due to impacts on schools or to the inadequacy of school facilities.”

The building of the three schools will be mandatory.  The cost will necessarily be shifted onto the backs of the homeowners via higher taxes and tenants via higher rents.

The economic hardship on the rest of the community that must pay their own way is not a subject addressed by the League of Women Voters.

Conclusion:

“Dispelling the Myths of Affordable Housing” is not written from a non-partisan viewpoint.  It raises a number of interesting and important subjects that should be part of the dialogue.  However, in its urgent desire to advocate its own position, the League of Women Voters ultimately encourages blind support.  It creates new myths more than exposing any existing ones.  Its handling of data and sources is inconsistent to the point where the report’s fundamental reliability is unstable.

It is further worth noting that not all supporters of affordable housing also support urbanization and high density 5-story apartment buildings in Marin County.  Environmentalists, which include many opponents of Plan Bay Area, do not support short-cutting environmental review (CEQA).  And not all opponents of urbanization oppose affordable housing.

However, most of us are great admirers of the League of Women Voters, and believe the errors and omissions here discussed were not known to the local members when the Marin chapter released its report.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Clayton Smith August 30, 2013 at 12:57 PM
Elizabeth: I am highly skeptical of these often self-serving studies, particularly those that only look at the first order effects, and do not go further into the iterative subsequent effects of the variables being examined. What happens when you free up space on the freeway? How does that new opening and the opportunities in presents to the other actors change their behavioral calculations? Would I be inclined to travel more to Northern Marin after 3PM during the week, if I thought there was a heighten probability that it would take less time? My behavior, as well as everyone else's, is shaped by the conditions existing at the time. Change those conditions and behavior changes as well. Static Analysis might be useful for putting forward talking points, but it is always problematic to use it in making definitive statements concerning human action.
Clayton Smith August 30, 2013 at 12:59 PM
Melissa: Eagerly awaiting your expanded thoughts on the League's assertions.
Peter Henry August 30, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Elizabeth: Richard Hall's assertion is correct in terms of total funding available to the school district on a per-pupil basis. A Basic Aid district gets moeny from the state to cover the shortfall between what that district gets in property tax funding and what the state average is for per-pupil spending. Dixie spends (if memory serves) about 120% of the state average, because property tax revenues are so robust in the district. If the property tax base is diluted, this 120% would fall; only when it falls below the 100% threshold would the state convert the district away from Basic Aid status and begin backfilling. It's pretty clear as a Dixie parent, comparing our schools to other districts, that while money isn't the solution to all problems, the extra resources available to our kids definitely is a good thing. Moreover, it's virtually self-evident that lower-income households will contribute less to the voluntary fundraising efforts of the Dixie Children's Fund (CanDo), meaning less per-student benefit from that source. Up to a certain point, this is OK, since a few dollars here or there (per student) isn't going to change things. When it gets to the point where the difference is several percentage points (because we've taken in too many low-revenue households for the size of our district), then that is a real cause for concern. This is the nutshell explanation why there is so much uproar over the affordable housing issue in Marinwood (independent of the growth and building aesthetic arguments)... The socially laudable goal of providing some consideration for low-income housing has been subject to the "take a mile when given an inch" effect, which at least by the available numbers we can project from, will in fact do economic harm to our schools and community facilities. This has nothing to do with NIMBYism, or a right-wing conspiracy (I am about as centrist, or centrist-left pragmatic as it gets). This is all about wanting to preserve the quality of education and environment for our families, which we've all worked very hard to achieve.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 30, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Tina and Peter, again, please see the useful explanation (complete with "bucket" illustration) at: http://www.edsource.org/iss_fin_sys_revlimits.html The rules changed in 2002-2003, such that Basic Aid districts no longer receive the formerly guaranteed amount of "basic aid" from the State of CA. Since that time, Basic Aid has meant no aid. I remember when Mill Valley district reverted to Basic Aid status, therefore lost State funding. I attended a school district meeting where the controller took great pains to explain it all. Peter, from my personal experience doing fundraising about 8 years ago for Kiddo (Mill Valley Schools Community Foundation), I saw that the donation patterns of many families whom I knew personally were opposite from what I would have thought: People who appeared to have less to spare (old cars, modest home, modest clothing for their children) tended to take Kiddo's mission much more seriously than many families who had huge houses and drove flashy cars (straight through the crosswalk on the red light). Many families who could write only a small check were generous with their volunteerism. I suspect that, at every income level above subsistence, people who are good about living within their means and not running over their neighbors tend to make great champions for their children's schools.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 30, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Clayton, first-order logic refers to mere theory. But these studies did not rely on theory, "static analysis," or mathematical modeling. The Berkeley - MIT study anonymously tracked 350,000 individual drivers through the GPS activity of their cell phones. They found distinct traffic patterns that can be targeted for improvement, such as through the use of on-ramp metering lights in hot spots. Likewise, the Swedish study found that a small "nudge" (a tiny fee--1-2 EU) to discourage rush-hour driving in a region with lots of old, narrow bridges (Stockholm) brought profound and sustained improvement. And they did that experiment twice--withdrawing the fee and later reinstating it. The beauty is that nobody has to bother figuring out how individual drivers will respond to a given intervention. Jonas Eliasson's conclusions were: (1) Traffic is a complex social system--it organizes itself. (2) Create incentives but don't plan the details. (3) Don't tell people how to adapt -- nudge them. http://www.ted.com/talks/jonas_eliasson_how_to_solve_traffic_jams.html
Tina McMillan August 30, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Elisabeth: California’s Revenue Limit System of School Finances Revenue Limit vs. Basic Aid School District Funding ========================================== What are Revenue Limits?======================== ========================================== "Public school districts receive funding from a variety of local, state, and federal sources. Some of the funds are earmarked for specific purposes, such as special education and class size reduction, while the rest are for general purposes."=================================== ========================================== "The amount of general purpose funding a school district receives per student (using ADA—Average Daily Attendance) is called its "revenue limit." Revenue limits were imposed in 1973 based on each school district’s revenue per student in effect in 1972 thus causing a disparity between districts. Even today, despite various equalization adjustments over the years, virtually no two school districts receive the same revenue limit per student guaranteed by the state. For some, such as the Los Altos School District (LASD), revenue limit continues to be below average due to this historical basis of the calculation."========================= ========================================== "The revenue limit received by a district is a combination of local property taxes and state taxes. Each of the nearly 1,000 school districts in California has its own revenue limit, based on its type (elementary, high, or unified), number of students (using ADA), 1972 revenues, and a multitude of other variables which, together, make for a complicated and lengthy formula."============================== ========================================== What is a Basic Aid District?======================= ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ "A basic aid district is one whose local property taxes (on a per student basis) meet or exceed its revenue limit. A basic aid district keeps the excess money from local property taxes. Out of California’s nearly 1,000 elementary, high school, and unified school districts, there were 91 basic aid districts last year. However, this number changes from year to year as local property tax revenues and enrollments fluctuate. A district can be a revenue limit district one year and basic aid the next. This can make the transition from revenue limit district to basic aid a bit challenging (see LASD’s Journey to Basic Aid)."+++++++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ http://www.lannonline.org/newsletter/article-archive/5-schools/80-californias-revenue-limit-system-of-school-finances-revenue-limit-vs-basic-aid-school-district-funding
Tina McMillan August 30, 2013 at 07:33 PM
http://schoolspending.apps.cironline.org/county/marin/district/novato-unified/========================== Mill Valley 2010 / $10,357 spent per student ($27.1 million total expenditures)============================= Novato 2010/$7,974 spent per student ($58.4 million total expenditures)================================= Please note the difference in spending between Mill Valley and Novato.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 30, 2013 at 07:38 PM
Tina, yes--just as I said: "A basic aid district is one whose local property taxes (on a per student basis) meet or exceed its revenue limit." You left out this part: "If the bucket is completely filled by local property tax revenues, the state has no need to 'top off' the bucket."
Clayton Smith August 30, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Elizabeth: Thank you for your prompt reply. I will make a point to watch the Ted Talk, you referred to. However, my point remains as to the effect that increasing slack in the system will, given a time lag, lead to its own diminishment unless a sustainable reduction in underlying demand occurs at the same time.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 30, 2013 at 08:07 PM
Tina, Mill Valley's riches do not come from State aid. It is a Basic Aid district that receives no aid. The money comes from overflow of the local property tax revenue "bucket." Mill Valley voters keep renewing a parcel tax that supports the schools. See: http://www.mvschools.org/domain/50
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 30, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Clayton Smith wrote about freeway traffic: "...increasing slack in the system will...lead to its own diminishment unless a sustainable reduction in underlying demand occurs at the same time." Clayton, I think you're referring to "induced demand," which is often characterized by the phrase, "Built it, and they will come." But the freeway system is already built. Too many drivers have come. What we're talking about, now, is making more of the existing roads by managing congestion. Management can come through hardware (e.g., traffic lights at key on-ramps), incentives or deterrents (freebies or fees--and congestion, itself, is a deterrent), and better alternatives to driving (efficient public transit, safe pedestrian and bicycle connections). I learned in conversation with an administrator at Marin Transit that unsafe bike/ped infrastructure is the biggest impediment to bus ridership in this county--people have to risk their necks to dash across a freeway ramp to a bus stop. I hope you enjoy the Ted Talk. Eliasson is the most animated and enthusiastic Swede I've ever seen in action!
Clayton Smith August 30, 2013 at 08:41 PM
To Tina, Peter and Elizabeth: I think there is a disproportionate emphasis on the quantity of money spent on our schools and a lack of focus on what the money is being spent on. I was raised in the inner city back East, and was in government schools from 1950 thru 1962. We were well schooled, and even educated, to an extent that I think is lacking today, on a relatively small amount of money. The thing that I think that sets Marin's schools apart is not their ample funding, but the community's involvement (meaning parental involvement), which keeps the teachers and the administrators on notice that these well educated parents have expectations that they are committed to for their children. I see it at the bottom of the hill I live on. The amount of parental involvement at Tam Valley School seems nearly obsessive to me. Bringing in low income parents, who have different values, frequently leads to the most troubling consequence. A tolerance for slackness can take hold, and once it does, it is Gresham's Law all over again, as the bad drives out the good, no matter how much money is tossed into the situation. This is where the relative numbers of low income people moving into a school district is the determining driver. I believe that the past history on this subject puts the number at less than 8%, things can maintain themselves, albeit with additional effort. As the number of low income folks rises above 8%, the situation becomes irremediable. Furthermore, concentrating the low income population geographically adds additional complications, because the children are not immersed in an environment that examples the kind of behaviors that produce higher income, self-provident, successful life outcomes. They need this to correct the behavior models that they are surrounded with at home. these models, more often than not in our current paradigm of moral relativism, lead to unnecessary life failure. If this sounds elitist, so be it. Character is the decisive element. If children see that self-discipline, perseverance, and a long term view of life are constantly rewarded, they will take on those traits as well. But they need a constancy of observation for this positive experience to take hold and root itself in their view of life and the manner of their behavior. This includes their enthusiasm for learning.
Franz Listen August 30, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Elizabeth: You cited Jonas Eliasson's conclusions as: (1) Traffic is a complex social system--it organizes itself. (2) Create incentives but don't plan the details. (3) Don't tell people how to adapt -- nudge them. That is great advice, with the word "nudge" being akin to incentivizing. Unfortunately, it's typically not the philosophy embedded in our regional planning process or the way that we approaches traffic, greenhouse gas production or housing. Example: As per usual, ABAG recently set about the task of eliminating "in-commuting" into the Bay Area through housing production. The idea is that with enough housing (especially affordable housing) people won't be "forced" to commute from Tracy to Dublin. It's a grossly simplistic formulation and I think what Richard may have been alluding to.
Tina McMillan August 30, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Elizabeth: Here is your earlier statement that brought on the discussion of the impact of housing that pays no property taxes on Schools when it changes the tax base from Basic Aid to Revenue Limit: "Mr. Hall alleges: "Class sizes will cross thresholds whereby Dixie loses 'Basic Aid' status resulting in a loss of 16% of current funding." This appears to be a misconception. If a district loses Basic Aid status, it actually gets more money from the State--not less. A district reverts to Basic Aid status when it's too rich in property taxes to qualify for State handouts. Basic aid means no aid. See: http://www.edsource.org/iss_fin_sys_revlimits.html " Please check each Basic Aid District in Marin and compare its per pupil funding to the districts with Revenue Limit. If Marinwood becomes Revenue Limit it will lose per pupil funding. That was the point of Mr. Hall's comments. You are welcome to compare Novato to Mill Valley is you want to see the size of the disparity. Novato also has it Elementary, Middle and High Schools in the same district while other city's put High Schools in separate districts to increase funding. http://schoolspending.apps.cironline.org/county/marin/district/novato-unified/ In 2010 in CA the median per pupil amount was $8234.00 per pupil; Novato received $7974.00 and Mill Valley received $10,357. Your comment just doesn't make sense when you look at the numbers.
Tina McMillan August 30, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Clayton: =================================== ========================================== I use to think the same way about education until I realized that there are issues that are affected by lack of basic funding in any district. ========================== *The first is teacher salaries. Novato didn't have a contract with teachers for three years and even with the small increase still pays the lowest teacher salaries in Marin County. ==================================== *The second is curriculum focus. Educationally, the United States lags behind other high performing nations. The recent move to Core Standards being adopted by Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity, is an attempt to realign curriculum that is content rich. While he is controversial, ED Hirsch, has been singing that tune for decades. It's called cultural literacy the problem is that instead of trying a curriculum that has been tested low wealth districts like Novato are attempting to cobble together their own and keep using the same materials. http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_4_hirsch.html ========================================== *Third, many people feel No Child Left Behind failed to achieve its goals. While it insisted on making the problems with US Education transparent through rigorous testing, it did little to create solutions with regard to the effects of Poverty and English as a Second Language on learning Many California schools are impacted by these issues. In schools with greater than 15% SED and ELL we see API scores drop. If we are going to help we not only need adequate curriculum reform but we can't create impacted schools by having our Sustainable Communities Strategy tied to SB375, ignore the effects on education when you overwhelm any given community with a high percentage of SED and ELL students.========================== *Fourth, California schools do not adequately fund Special Education. http://www.nami.org/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm?ContentFileID=147763 For example, "In California, which has cut over $750 million dollars from its mental health budget in recent years, the governor suspended the mandate on counties to provide mental health services for special education students, meaning that the burden of providing and paying for their care is shifted to school systems, also struggling with limited resources."============================= *Fifth we are losing the so called war on drugs. More and more children are impacted by families struggling with decades of substance abuse. In inner cities, where selling drugs is a means of generating income, children are not focused on school because it seem irrelevant to their lives. During the Great Depression immigrants had a different focus and set of values. There was hope for a better life. ========================================== What worries me most about Plan Bay Area is that you have one plan that claims to do it all. The complexity of each of these issues is sufficient to suggest that one plan will likely fail but by the time we realize it the harm will already be done.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 31, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Tina, perhaps you are overlooking the disparate funding sources that preclude direct comparisons between Basic Aid and Revenue Limit districts. Mill Valley is a Basic Aid district. Novato is Revenue Limit. Mill Valley's source for general funding for its public schools is property taxes--which are high, because Mill Valley property values are high. Novato's source for general funding for public schools is property taxes plus State aid. A Basic Aid district such as Mill Valley may still qualify for State money earmarked for things other than general funding. The formulas are complicated. Your school district controller would be the one to explain exactly how Marinwood's funding is calculated. That would be a good topic to request on the agenda of a school board meeting. Then everyone could hear it straight from the horse's mouth and get their questions answered.
Tina McMillan August 31, 2013 at 01:32 AM
Elisabeth: Let's try a different approach. Are you suggesting that Basic Aid Districts get fewer tax dollars per pupil than Revenue Limit Districts?
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 31, 2013 at 01:21 PM
Tina, Basic Aid districts receive NO dollars per pupil from the State of CA to meet their Revenue Limit. Average Daily Attendance no longer even matters for them. However, a Basic Aid district may still qualify to receive money for Categorical Aid (for Special Education and other "Categorical" programs such as English Language Learner Assistance). Like Revenue Limit districts, Basic Aid districts have to demonstrate that they actually qualify for such funding. ~~~ But the plot thickens, because California is now transitioning to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). See the Legislative Analyst's Office for a complete explanation. Notice that falling OUT of Basic Aid status BRINGS State aid. ~~~ "Vast Majority of Districts to Receive More State Aid, No District to Get Less State Aid" [And]: "Basic Aid Districts...(a few districts will fall out of basic–aid status and begin receiving state aid as a result of the LCFF)." http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/edu/lcff/lcff-072913.aspx
Clayton Smith August 31, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Tina: Thank you for your reply. On your point concerning the War on Drugs, which is really a War on Drug Users, Provides, etc., it was lost before it began. Drug use, pharmaceutical drugs included, is motivated by a complex of psychological, as well as physiological, issues. The drugs being used are a very heterogeneous lot themselves. So, the government in its usual ham fisted way turned a psychological, sociological and clinical issue into a contest of wills and declared war. I would argue that it is this War on Drugs that has done the most damage to the minority communities in our country than any other single thing. Given the widespread and justifiable suspicions that parts of the government are involved in the narcotics trade, it has single handedly opened the government to charges of blatant hypocrisy. One of the first effects of this has been that the school teacher, who is the proxy for the authority of the government in the small life of the young people in any community, is hopeless discredited. We must do whatever we can to decriminalize drug use. We must change our approach from confrontation to understanding. Take the outsized profits out of it and let it stand on its own, so folks can see drug use for what it really is, without the glamour it is currently associated with. I think that people will come to the appropriate conclusions, and we would see drug use plummet and many of the communities that have been most negatively effected by it put on a path of self-motivated and directed improvement.
Tina McMillan August 31, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Clayton: Yes, making it into a "war" has only worsened the problem particularly in urban areas where there are higher concentrations of poverty. By taking away hope for a different future we see an increase in gangs and gang related crime. Suggesting that moving people, like building blocks, so that they can live closer to low paying jobs, by building homes in commercial areas away from existing neighborhoods, further segregates and emphasizes the have and have not feelings. The suburbs were meant to be different from the cities. Yet we have various non profit groups that have turned Plan Bay Area into "the" answer for all the worlds ills, environmental, economic and social. We rarely find one answer that truly works with complex problems like these. If we could stop designating the suburbs as terrible at least there would be honesty about the impact of creating urban centers in suburban communities that lack the tax base to support them.
Clayton Smith August 31, 2013 at 01:58 PM
Tina: I am generally opposed to teaching a standardized curriculum and teaching towards a test, the so-called No Child Left Behind and Common Core. It politicizes education. Who is to determine what the standards will be, or the core, lets alone the questions on the tests? To what ends will this schooling be focused on? Will it be to reinforce and enhance the development of critical thinking, which is the basis of a strongly individualistic personality, or will it be tailored to produce people who are submissive to authority? Will it reward creativity, or imitation? Given the self-serving, ill-educated, corrupt collection of misfits in elective office throughout the United States, I am not the least bit optimistic about them having such authority. I am certain that they will pass the buck to some staffers, who will fit the circumstance to the demands of the ever present lobbyists in their midst. That is where community must step in and the nationalizing influence must be driven out. Parents need to be directly in charge of the process, not bureaucrats! When I went to school between 1950 and 1962, the local Board of Education and the various PTAs determined what was going on in the classroom. The immediate focus was on reading, writing and arithmetic. It worked very well. It was tough on the teachers, given class sizes of 40 plus. But no one got through the 5th grade without being able to read, write, or add, subtract, multiply or divide. On top of that, we spend a lot of time studying the founding of the country and in particular the Constitution and most importantly, the Bill of Rights. This was largely because we had just fought a huge war in defense of those principles, in which nearly every child's parents had taken part, many such as mine at direct risk of their lives in the horror of the conflict. My aunt was a school teacher. She would have hated this top down melding in her classroom duties. She would have understood clearly that her first duty was to the child, not the curriculum.
Clayton Smith August 31, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Tina: Yes, I agree with your assertion concerning the use of something like Plan Bay Area to handle this complex nest of socio-economic issues. Worse yet is its attempt to enervate local control and with it the local input necessary. It is homogeny over heterodoxy, which is in the long run bound to fail, but not before it does incalculable damage in the process.
Tina McMillan August 31, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Elisabeth: You didn't answer my question. The answer is: Basic Aid districts get "tax" dollars from property taxes, and Revenue Limit districts get "tax" dollars from the general fund. ===== What is Basic Aid?============================== ========================================== Basic Aid, also known as “local funding,” essentially occurs when the local property tax revenue in a district exceeds the total general purpose funding that the state would have provided. In other words, there’s no need to factor in any state aid because the property taxes alone surpass the minimum funding level established by the state." "This doesn’t have any impact on taxpayers or specific programs, but it changes the way that dollars are routed, as well as the amount. By definition, Basic Aid districts receive funding above and beyond their calculated Revenue Limit."====================================== http://iusd.org/budget_watch/IUSDBudgetWatch-FAQ.html
Tina McMillan August 31, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Clayton: I missed out on the quality of the education you describe. We were a military family and in every community the curriculum changed. I believe Common Core is a return to a back to basics approach that includes the Constitution. I also support a curriculum known as Core Knowledge. Here is a link to a BBC commentary on ED Hirsch that explains the approach: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/oct/15/hirsch-core-knowledge-curriculum-review Hirsch believes that education was politicized and dominated by progressive ideology resulting in the elimination of consistent, meaningful, and necessary content. While Hirsch is not a political conservative he does believe that effective education requires a specific knowledge base and the ability to think for oneself. His curriculum was more easily aligned with the new common core. It was inspired by the desire to educate across socioeconomic spectrums. http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_4_hirsch.html
Clayton Smith August 31, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Tina: The most important thing any teacher can pass on to a student is a love of learning, thereby inspiring that student to a life lone self-motivated quest for knowledge. I had three teachers during my time in government schools that did that for me - Mrs. Clark (5th Grade), Mrs. Caldwell (9th Grade English, Creative Writing, and Mr. Caroff (for 3 years of college preparatory Mathematics, 10th through 12th Grades). Ms. Clark inspired me to read and started me on a life long love of reading. Each student in her class selected what they wanted to read and then did projects to present to the whole class on what they discovered in their reading. It was very individual and consequently personally inspiring and validating. My house, 60 year later has perhaps 2,000 books in it. I spend 2 to 5 hours a day reading, History, Politics, Science, Economics, Psychology, etc. Because it comes from within, and is not imposed from without, it is as natural to me as sleeping and eating. Mrs. Caldwell instilled in me the importance of looking deeply into the ethical issues we confront in our day to day lives. This comes to us in the deep literary and philosophical traditions that set our culture apart from those that preceded it. Mr. Caroff instilled in me an enduring respect for rigorous rational analysis and the Greek tradition of skepticism and argument. His intellect gave those of us, who had the benefit of his presence, an example of what our minds were capable of and with that a clear measure of when we were not living up to our mental potential. I never accept anything on the basis of "authority." ===========So, what am I saying here? Education is a person to person experience. It is a profoundly deep transforming experience, both for the teacher and student alike. It is not for the closed minded, nor the faint of heart. Schooling, on the other hand, is programmatic and can be done by formula, without regard for the individuality of the recipient. It is kind of like the Basic Training most men of my generation were compelled to endure. As one famous critic of Government Schooling has pointed out, it is to instill in young people predictable modes of responding to authority. The more centralized it gets, the heavier the hand of that authority, and the increasing decline in regard for the young people compelled to suffer its intrusions. The great teachers that blessed my childhood are but a memory in today's classrooms. They would have been shown the door long ago. Getting them to come back is the real task at hand. But that must be preceded by a change in understanding, which itself can only happen when there is a genuine willingness to engage in dialogue, when everything is put on the table, when there are no taboos or sacred cows or prior financial commitments standing in the way of doing the best we can to provide real life lasting benefits to young people in our communities. Only when there is a commitment to a real and complete transformation can true understanding occur and creative solutions to the problems at hand flourish. But this cannot happen when the State is in change of everything.
Elisabeth Thomas-Matej August 31, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Tina, your citation confirms what I have been saying, and the citations that I have posted. For general purpose funding for public schools, Basic Aid school districts use their local property taxes, period. Revenue Limit districts use local property taxes AND State aid. ~~~ Both Basic Aid and Revenue Limit districts have to apply separately for money for Categorical Programs, such as Special Education and English Language Learner Assistance. ~~~ The source of the aid money that Sacramento hands out is a different topic. But since you brought up California's General Fund, here's a list of its revenue sources: It comes from personal income tax, sales and use tax, corporation tax, insurance tax, liquor tax, tobacco taxes, motor vehicle fees, and "other." In school year 2013-14, the General Fund will pay $41,068 million toward K-12 education. See: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/ ~~~ My point is that when a CA school district falls out of Basic Aid status -- because its local property taxes can no longer fill its revenue limit "bucket" -- that school district begins RECEIVING State aid, NOT losing it. Richard Hall and Peter Henry, above, have it backwards. This is not surprising, because Basic Aid used to mean "basic aid"! It used to mean $120 per "average daily attendance." Since school year 2002-03, however, it has meant "no aid." ~~~ In any case, the misunderstanding is upsetting people needlessly and confusing the discussion about higher-density housing. Again: Basic Aid means "no aid."
Tina McMillan August 31, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Let's try another question. Are you in favor of Plan Bay Area? Do you think Plan Bay Area will have a negative impact on schools and city services?
Peter Henry September 01, 2013 at 01:55 AM
Clayton, I agree completely that the amount of money a district has available to it (regardless of the source, state back-fill or property tax bonanza) is only loosely correlated with the educational quality. Community (read:parental and caretaker) involvement is where the real difference lies, and there are cultural factors at play as well (where education is valued and promoted by parents to their kids, the kids do a better job of learning. There are also economic factors at play in a number of ways (e.g., in wealthier areas, kids have access to private tutors and beyond-school structured learning environments; conversely, in poorer areas, parents are often working multiple obs to stay afloat, and have less time to spend with their kids, and less money to spend on education as well). Elisabeth, Richard and I do not have it backwards; you're interpreting our description backwards (or perhaps both of us just weren't being clear enough)! Let me restate: Basic Aid is a status that means a district receives NO supplemental aid from the state, because that district is already receiving MORE than the state-determined revenue minimum (the "revenue limit") from its local property taxes. In other words, to put it bluntly, school districts in wealthy areas have more money at their disposal thanks to property taxes, which are the primary *source* of funds for those districts; the state is not a source for funds in those tax-rich districts. Really, it's the terminology that is "backwards" or a bit misleading -- "Basic Aid" sounds like a term for a poor district that needs state support, when the opposite is true. What Richard and I were both trying to explain (here and on nextdoor.com) is that when a Basic Aid district, which by definition has MORE than the state average (revenue limit) to spend per student, takes in new students from households that are not contributing a locally-similar share of property taxes, then mathematically the per-student money available declines -- but it may still be more than the state average, thus leaving the district in basic Aid status, but in fact somewhat "poorer" in terms of money per student. At some point, this dilution can be extreme enough to reduce the available money to the revenue limit itself, at which point Basic Aid status is lost, and the state provides money to keep the average per-student spend at that limit. This all leads to a fairly complex situation as far as resources and school quality goes... Does the reduced per-capita money level result in less resources available (again, per student) in the schools? Yes. Does this lower the schools' quality? Subjectively yes, but it's not always easy to quantify this, because as per above, money isn't the only factor affecting school quality, or student quality for that matter. Does the presence of school families from low-income housing that isn't paying property taxes reduce the service quality of the schools? Maybe not to a given student who already has the social and economic support in the first place, but in a Basic Aid district it certainly does reduce the per-pupil funding level, which MAY affect the actual and/or perceived quality of the school district.
Tina McMillan September 01, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Peter Henry: Thank you. Well said. In Novato all those factors come into play because SED or socioeconomically disadvantaged students on average struggle to achieve proficiency as compared to their peers and money alone does not shift this issue. In Mill Valley and Dixie the lower percentage of SED seems to correlate with the higher API score. In other words, if a school has a mix of socioeconomic levels where the lowest level is no more than 14-16% SED, the API scores still seem to reflect the higher scores of the unimpacted students. But if the school has 25-65% SED, the API scores plummet. If you look at Sausalito Marin City, they have the higher per pupil funding at $37,883 but the lowest API in the county at 745. The Charter School in the Sausalito Marin City district is on a completely different and much more successful track. Their API is 857 with 60% SED. You would think a funding surplus like $37,883 would get you an even higher API but when you have more than 16% SED the money can't make up for the higher distribution and concentration of poverty and its effect on education. For social engineering to work, Plan Bay Area would have to intentionally address all these factors. Just providing a family with a place to live, closer to their job doesn't get them out of poverty, stop them from driving cars or provide the curriculum focus their children need to become successful in school. This is not true for all families but appears statistically significant when you look at the percentages in Marin County Schools. In 2003, Novato Unified School District had 16% SED students out of their total population. Now we have 34%. The percentage increase is correlated to a decline in API for each impacted school. The three schools as the lower levels each have higher API's: Pleasant Valley 923, Novato Charter 941 and Rancho 958. It is critical to look at the impact of every factor when planning housing and transportation as they effect GHG's.
Amy Hall October 31, 2013 at 12:23 PM
I think the icing on the cake here in San Rafael is they city's pensions crisis. With 25% of the city's taxes going to paying for pensions San Rafael has the highest proportion of any city in the Bay Area serving this purpose, diverting it away from spending on services such as Police, schools...--------------------------------------------------------------------------------We need to focus on this crisis first and address it before we can start to entertain plans that would add further tax burdens. Otherwise we're going to end up with situations like high earners and businesses leaving San Rafael (compounding tax issues), bankruptcy like Vallejo, or simply a reduction in services.

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