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Fallbrook High Trustees Face Recall Campaign

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A recall campaign is under way to oust Fallbrook Union High School District trustees, who sparked a community uprising by proposing a special tax to raise $3.7 million without a public vote.

Although trustees finally dropped the revenue plan two weeks ago, during a meeting attended by 600 protesters, all five trustees have been notified that petitions will be circulated to put the recall on the ballot.

Recall leader John Von Borstel said Wednesday it makes no difference that trustees abandoned the controversial tax plan.

“I was outraged at their arrogance in attempting to pass a tax without a vote of the public,” he said. “Even though they backed off, they attempted it, and they’re (still) holding it over our heads to get us to pass a bond election in June.”

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“I don’t think people like that should be trusted with power,” he said.

At least one trustee, Jim Hutcherson, who was elected only last November, is baffled by the recall drive.

“It’s a mystery to me,” said Hutcherson, who thought the trustees’ July 29 decision to reject the special tax had returned calm to this rural community of 22,000 residents.

“The way I look at it, that’s behind us,” he added.

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Von Borstel, who works for the Valley Center Municipal Water District as chief waste water treatment plant operator, must next notify the county registrar of voters of his intent to mount a recall campaign.

Then he would have 120 days to gather 4,158 valid signatures from registered voters on five separate petitions, one for each trustee targeted for recall, according to Barbara Walther, a supervisor for the registrar of voters.

Although it’s early in the recall effort, Von Borstel probably won’t find complete support even among the voters who vehemently fought the trustee’s plan to raise tax money without public approval under the state’s Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972.

Trustees wanted to tax homeowners up to $24 a year and commercial property $12 a year for 25 to 30 years to pay for sports and recreation, including soccer field lights, an improved track, bleachers, an upgraded gymnasium and swimming pool.

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About 21,000 properties in the high school district would have been taxed.

Ralph Enander, a leader of the protest against the tax, criticized the recall, saying the community must now rally to find other ways of generating revenue for a fast-growing high school district that’s served by a crowded, 35-year-old high school.

“I want no part of it, a recall will just create a lot of animosity, and it’s not going to get any classrooms or help education,” said Enander, who was a trustee for 16 years before being defeated for reelection last year.

However, Enander said the community hasn’t entirely healed after the angry challenge to the trustee’s tax plan.

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“The animosity has been pretty well wiped away, but I still find a good deal of mistrust over what the board is doing and may do,” he said.

What trustees have now decided to do is ask voters to pass a bond measure, tentatively scheduled for next June’s ballot, to raise money to rehabilitate the old high school and build a second high school.

Twice last year, voters rejected a $35-million bond measures for new school facilities. It was those crushing defeats that convinced trustees there was no way left to get money except to impose the special tax under the Landscaping and Lighting Act.

The act allows public agencies to form assessment districts where tax money can be used for maintenance to improve publicly used recreational facilities.

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Beside Fallbrook, the Escondido Union High School District has been the only other school district in San Diego County to consider such a tax. But Escondido’s trustees, also facing stiff public opposition, backed away from the tax plan in June.

Hutcherson left open the possibility that trustees could reconsider the special tax if money isn’t found elsewhere. “There’s no barroom or back-room politics going on, we’re trying to look wherever we can for some money for the district,” he said.

Other trustees subject to the recall are school board President Patrick Miller, and Tal Cowan, Lisa Gifford and Phyllis Martin.


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