Mail-in ballots for the March 3 election went out to Santa Clara County voters on Tuesday, including two Foothill-De Anza Community College District measures aimed at upgrading campus facilities and maintaining access to affordable higher education.
The $898 million Measure G, the largest school bond in Santa Clara County's history, would cost property owners approximately 1.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value, for the next 34 years. An $800,000 property, for example, would be assessed $128 annually in taxes.
Measure H, a $48 parcel tax, would provide the two community colleges with approximately $5.6 million annually over five years. Unlike neighboring community college districts, which are fully funded through local tax revenue, Foothill-De Anza is subject to fluctuations in state funding based on enrollment — which has been declining for several years.
Both measures reflect the efforts of Foothill, De Anza and community colleges across the state to address the impact of what the parcel tax describes as an "unprecedented housing and affordability crisis," including by supporting student and employee housing, mental health services and teacher recruitment.
"As the educational institution that serves the largest number of undergraduates in Silicon Valley, Foothill-De Anza is an affordable gateway to good jobs and the middle class and beyond for many local families," Chancellor Judy Miner wrote in an email to the Weekly. "Our students enter trades, earn career-focused degrees and transfer to four-year universities. These graduates are a backbone of the workforce, providing essential services and contributing to the local economy."
The community college district noted that the cost to attend California's public universities has risen to almost five times that of attending a community college.
Measure G would cover about 60% of the estimated $1.5 billion in infrastructure and capital needs at the community colleges, Miner said. Potential districtlevel bond projects include student and staff housing (which could cost as much as $300 million), technology updates, infrastructure to support expanded online education, security upgrades and solar panels, among others.
The possible Foothill College projects include new instructional equipment for career technical programs and STEM laboratories, improving campus accessibility, expanding and improving classroom facilities, campuswide roof repairs and upgrading athletic facilities, among others.
"Our two colleges serve almost 60,000 students a year — they are like small cities," Miner said. "The state doesn't provide funds to maintain and upgrade them to preserve the community's investment."
She noted that the high cost of living in the Bay Area has made it difficult to recruit and retain quality teachers, particularly younger faculty.
At Foothill College, the parcel tax, if approved, would help fund housing assistance for students and staff, mental health services, tutoring and services to address student food insecurity and homelessness. According to a 2018 district survey, 52% of Foothill and De Anza students experienced food and housing security in the previous year and 16% had experienced homelessness.
The official ballot argument in favor of Measure H describes Foothill and De Anza students as those "who want to attend 4-year universities or get specialized job training to compete for better paying jobs in business, technology, nursing, manufacturing, first responders and other high-demand careers."
The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association filed the official arguments against the two measures. The Cupertino-based organization criticized both measures as "blank" checks with insufficient detail on how the district will use the funds.
"The burden is properly upon proponents of the props borrowing to explain why so much is needed," the argument states.
While the taxpayers association also questioned whether funds would primarily benefit employees, both measures state that no funds can be used for administrators' salaries, pensions or benefits. All expenditures will be subject to review by a citizen oversight committee and annual reports.
The bond measure needs 55% of the vote to pass and the parcel tax requires 66.6% in support at the ballot box.
About 22 new vote centers will open on Saturday, Feb. 22, in locations throughout the county for any voter who wishes to cast a ballot in person. More will open starting on Feb. 29, with a total of more than 110 locations, the Registrar of Voters said. Voters no longer have to use a single polling place and can use any vote center in the county. Mail-in ballots can also be returned to any vote center or to any of nearly 100 drop boxes countywide, many of which are available 24 hours a day. To find a vote center, go to eservices.sccgov.org.
The last day to register to vote in the March 3 presidential primary election is Feb. 18.