BB Didn’t Just Pass, It Made Honor Roll


Peter Harrell of Topanga Canyon writes:

I enjoy your columns but sometimes you are an ignorant slut. The reasons some of us are against BB is simple: We’re angry about how much money is wasted on our absurd public education system and suspicious that any bond funds we pass and pay for will be badly spent as well. Sure, sure, how can you argue against fixing a roof? We’re heartless Republican bastards, blah blah blah. . .

Ignorant slut?

Maybe it’s just an old one-liner from “Saturday Night Live,” but Mr. Harrell’s insult via e-mail left me searching for a riposte. Mom taught me the rhyme about sticks and stones a long time ago, but I was in a sporting mood. I was thinking of saying something like, “Oh, yeah? Well, I may be an ignorant slut, but you’re a well-informed virgin!”

But now I don’t have to do that. His message arrived before last week’s election, and now that Proposition BB has passed, well, take that, Mr. Harrell.


The $2.4-billion school bond measure didn’t just pass. It soared, collecting 71% of the vote districtwide, comfortably surpassing the two-thirds super-majority required for passage. In a city that often seems afraid of its youth, in a state where the governor and the Assembly speaker muse about making 14-year-olds eligible for the death penalty, it was heartening to learn that the electorate committed itself to such an investment in public education.

For many of those 71%, especially those with children in school, nothing on the ballot was more important, not the mayoral election or the questions about reforming the arcane city charter. Nor was anything on the ballot as suspenseful. The question wasn’t whether Mayor Riordan would beat Tom Hayden, but by how much. And it was widely assumed that Proposition 8, establishing a charter reform commission, would pass as well.

But Proposition BB wasn’t a sure thing at all. In November, a similar measure received 65.5% of the vote, falling just short. This unexpectedly strong showing inspired the second try and this time attracted Riordan’s endorsement. On the other hand, strategists knew that the April turnout would be much lower. And then, several days before last Tuesday’s ballot, a Times Poll showed that only 64% planned to vote yes on Proposition BB.

Workers with Angelenos for Better Classrooms, the yes-on-BB campaign organization, still professed guarded optimism. One reason was that the paper’s poll only covered the city of Los Angeles; the school district is much larger, encompassing unincorporated areas and several other cities, including San Fernando, West Hollywood, South Gate, Huntington Park, Carson and a few smaller burgs. Those communities, strategists told me, strongly supported the school bond measure.

Another reason for the confidence was the absence of organized opposition, save for the Libertarians who wrote the ballot arguments against BB. But a few days before the election, that suddenly changed when Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and some San Fernando Valley activists urged a no vote, claiming that the bond measure would jeopardize efforts to reorganize the LAUSD into smaller districts.

When the results were broken down geographically after the election, they showed that Proposition BB won 64% in the Valley, falling short of the two-thirds. A heavy yes vote in the rest of Los Angeles and those other communities within the LAUSD lifted the measure to victory.


In L.A. there are many politicians and activists who routinely try to polarize Greater Los Angeles into camps of “us” and “them,” be it by geography or race or economic class or political viewpoint. A ballot forces people to polarize themselves into more meaningful camps.

The yes-on-BB camp was strong throughout the district. An exit poll by The Times, dicing the numbers three different ways, found support weakest among white Valley voters who described themselves as conservatives. (Nobody was asked whether they were “bleeding-heart liberal pinkos” or “heartless Republican bastards.”) So, were these white Valley conservatives overwhelmingly against it? Not really. The poll found that 46% of them voted yes, 54% no.

It seems safe to assume that Peter Harrell was not among the 71% districtwide who voted yes. He assured me he is for fixing school roofs and making other necessary repairs but he doesn’t trust the LAUSD, given its track record, to do the job right.

Among reasons to vote no, Harrell’s was better than a few I heard. He apparently wasn’t reassured that this bond measure, however, required the formation of an oversight committee to monitor the expenditures. The $2.4-billion bond will be paid by a property tax of $37.14 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation--or about $5 or $6 a month for most homeowners.

Ron Bitzer of North Hollywood thinks it’s a great investment. One of Bitzer’s sons attends Riverside Drive Elementary in Sherman Oaks. For two years Bitzer has been involved in the school’s Campaign Cool, which has raised $40,000 from parents and local merchants to install air conditioning in 30 classrooms where temperatures on hot days often exceed 100 degrees.

“The ozone levels are significantly lower in an air-conditioned room. We believe it was a public-health issue,” Bitzer said.


The $40,000 would have only paid for the wiring. Air conditioning itself would have cost another $5,000 per classroom.

Now Riverside Elementary and about 116 other schools will get the air conditioning. Others will get new roofs, others will be reinforced for earthquakes, others will be modernized for computers, and so on. Six bucks a month spread among the masses can do a lot of good.

Parents for Riverside Drive, Bitzer says, now plans to use the $40,000 it raised to expand after-school programs and improve academics.

“Now,” Bitzer says, “we need to talk about how to improve the quality of education inside the classroom.”