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McClintock’s Plea Dirties BB’s Bathwater

Tucked behind some bland bungalows near a corner of the Anatola Elementary School campus in Van Nuys is an old big rig trailer that used to deliver goods to 7-Elevens. Now the trailer contains a 20-station computerized phone bank housing those trying to deliver $2.4-billion worth of improvements for Los Angeles schools.

“Hello, this is Jackie and I’m phoning about Proposition BB.”

A pause.

“Proposition BB.”

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Another pause.

“That’s B as in baby, B as in baby.”

It sounded like Jackie, but she spells it Jacque. This was Jacque Capps, a 42-year-old Granada Hills resident who on another morning might have been volunteering at Danube Avenue Elementary, where her daughter Kate is a first- grader. But with the election coming up Tuesday, she was inside this trailer, trying to rustle up more support for a very popular cause that still may not be quite popular enough--thanks to Assemblyman Tom McClintock and a few other latecomers to the school bond debate.

Among its supporters, there’s still plenty of optimism about Proposition BB’s chances, largely because a similar $2.4-billion bond measure last November fell just short of the two-thirds needed for passage. It came close, even though both Mayor Richard Riordan and the United Teachers-Los Angeles failed to lend their political muscle to the cause.

Riordan, now up for reelection and eager to be on the side of the angels, counts himself as an enthusiastic supporter and is plugging BB in his campaign mail. Another prominent Republican, Sheriff Sherman Block, has joined Riordan in wooing conservatives to a cause that last November was led by PTA groups and the Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents thousands of custodians, cafeteria workers, teacher’s aides and other school workers. The trailer-cum-phone-bank was acquired and outfitted by the union six weeks ago and placed temporarily on land that the Parent-Teacher-Student Assn. leases from the school district.

Until Friday, proponents seemed almost too confident that they could get the extra votes they needed. The closest thing to organized opposition seemed to be a scattering of Libertarians, who wrote the ballot argument against BB and loathe public education in principle.

That confidence was shaken Friday when McClintock (R-Northridge) led an 11th-hour rally against BB. The next day, McClintock and his predecessor in the Assembly, Paula Boland, jointly announced a new plan for breaking up the L.A. Unified School District.

Their election-eve politicking is as tacky as it is tardy. Still, it could be effective. When the election games aren’t played on a level field, when a single no vote cancels out two yes votes, it doesn’t take much effort to be a spoiler.

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McClintock, joined by the Valley’s United Chambers of Commerce and a few activists, expressed fear that a successful bond measure would erase still-distant dreams of a dismantled LAUSD. Taxes collected in the Valley, they further declared, would be spent on schools “over the hill.” For a sound bite, they said that BB stood for “bad business.”

Bad business? Those of us who voted yes last November--and for the record, that was 65.5% of us--may find it puzzling that some people think a property tax levy of $37.14 annually for each $100,000 in assessed valuation is an outrageous price to pay for a vast array of improvements in the schools. For most homeowners, it adds up to about four, five or six bucks a month for earthquake reinforcement, new roofs, air conditioning, new electrical systems to accommodate computers, and so on. Most of us homeowners, I think, understand that the value of our homes is directly related to the condition and quality of nearby schools.

But let’s say you are lucky enough to live near one of the (relatively) younger schools in decent condition. Let’s say that McClintock is right about something: That you know in your gut that only a few dollars of your annual bill go to your neighborhood schools and the rest are spent on the far side of the Valley and beyond, at schools older and more decrepit.

Chalk it up to creeping egalitarianism, a bulwark of the American ideal of equal opportunity. Perhaps this is why 59% of Valley voters supported the bond measure in November. Or maybe it’s just that there are many schools in bad shape in the Valley, and perhaps these voters lived in those neighborhoods. Actually, it’s both.

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McClintock suggests that Valley voters would be better off waiting for a breakup to succeed before passing a school bond. There are several problems with this idea, the biggest being that it could be a very long wait. Compared to the efforts to divide the city of Los Angeles, there are more valid reasons to consider dismantling the school district. The political reality, however, is that it remains a longshot. And meanwhile, the schools get more and more rundown.

But let’s pretend the fool’s bet comes in. Well, it’s hard to pass bond measures in small districts too. Look no further than Burbank, where schools are badly in need of repair and modernization, but a recent bond measure failed badly. Burbank school boosters will try again Tuesday--and they’re trying harder--but it’s expected to be a close call. And a school bond in Glendale is facing another uphill fight in the summer.

Indeed, the Valley might need the votes from as far away as South Gate and San Pedro to get any of its schools ready for the next earthquake, the 100-degree heat waves to come, the technological revolution already well underway. Consider the lesson of Proposition L, the 1989 measure that dramatically improved library services throughout the city and funded the construction of the handsome new libraries in North Hills, Woodland Hills and Porter Ranch.

Proposition L required a two-thirds vote, but in the four council districts located entirely within the Valley, the highest yes vote was 62.6%. Fortunately for these library lovers, support outside the Valley topped 70%, lifting the citywide total to 68.2%.

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The Valley’s new libraries have proven popular, but of course not everybody considers them community assets. Surely some people consider them a big waste of money, perhaps even “bad business.”

What the BB really stands for, if anything, I don’t know. But when an occasional voter had trouble understanding Jacque Capps over the phone, what popped into that mom’s head was B as in baby, B as in baby.

So instead of a sound bite, perhaps an old moral is appropriate here:

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Ca. 91311, or via e-mail at scott.harris@latimes.com Please include a phone number.


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