The San Ramon Valley school board has opted against taking formal stances on California's marijuana legalization Proposition 64 and Contra Costa County's 0.5% transportation sales tax proposal Measure X, with a majority of board members deeming each ballot issue fell outside their official purview.
The no-vote decisions came earlier this month when the board was presented with proposed resolutions in opposition of Prop 64 and in support of Measure X -- resolutions requested by different individual board members and recommended by superintendent Rick Schmitt.
"In both instances, board members expressed that they felt that these ballot items fell outside a school board's purview, are beyond their scope and do not directly relate to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District," district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said by email.
The board held separate discussions on the proposed resolutions during its Oct. 4 meeting in Danville, and each time voted 4-1 to pull the endorsement item from the agenda, rather than cast a vote on the merits of the proposal. Board president Greg Marvel dissented both times.
"As individuals and politically active citizens, our personal opinions about statewide and countywide issues must remain our personal opinions," board member Denise Jennison said via email.
"I moved that the board not consider Proposition 64 and I moved that the board not consider Measure X, as they both fall outside of our purview as a school board. Rachel, Ken and Mark agreed. There is really nothing more to it than that," she added.
Marvel, who supported both proposed resolutions, said by email, "Although I was the only board member to support these items remaining on the agenda and thus taking a vote, and I had a fundamental disagreement with the rest of the board members on why the items should be pulled, I respect the will of the majority of the board members to have the items removed from consideration."
The board's actions earlier this month may indicate a need to review its resolution consideration process, according to board member Rachel Hurd, who originally asked that the pro-Measure X resolution be placed on the board's agenda but ultimately voted with the majority to decline consideration.
"I think it's fair to say that our decisions on these two resolutions are more a reflection of the need for us to have a discussion about how resolutions come forward, than on the merit of the resolutions," Hurd said by email.
On the Nov. 8 general election ballot statewide, Proposition 64 asks voters to support legalizing recreational marijuana for people 21 and older as well as establish certain rules and sales and cultivation taxes for such legal, commercialized use.
District administration presented the board with a recommended resolution against the statewide initiative after Marvel requested Prop 64 opposition be placed on the board's agenda, citing concerns about potential increased marijuana use among teens.
"I asked to have the Prop 64 item placed on the agenda as I felt that based on reports coming from Colorado and Washington, where this drug is now legal, this measure would be very damaging to our students," Marvel said.
The one-page proposed resolution stated the board's opposition would have been in part because "we believe the legalization and commercialization of marijuana for recreational use will increase advertising, availability and use by adolescents and lead to negative consequences to the health and safety of our citizens."
Patty Hoyt, representing the nonprofit Discovery Counseling Center, spoke to the board Oct. 4 to urge approval of the opposition resolution.
As written, the proposed resolution also endorsed "public education on the harms of marijuana and proven prevention interventions" and "making drug treatment available to all who need it."
The document also included statistics and conclusions regarding health risks from marijuana, use among teens in Colorado, dependency and reduction in IQ points because of marijuana use -- but all without specific sourcing.
The lack of sourcing was a point of concern for Hurd.
She said she "was not confident about the legitimacy of the sources substantiating some of the (resolution's) 'whereas' statements and therefore the nexus of their arguments."
But more importantly for Hurd and three of her colleagues was whether it would be appropriate for the school board to take sides on legalizing marijuana use for adults 21 years old and older.
"I also supported removing the resolution in support of Prop 64 from the agenda because I don't think that it falls in the school district's purview because Prop 64 addresses behavior for adults 21 and older, not our students," she said.
Proposed by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), Measure X asks voters throughout Contra Costa County to approve a new 0.5% sales tax for 30 years to fund transportation project.
The new tax, if passed by two-thirds of participating voters, would start on April 1, 2017 and would generate an estimated $2.8 billion in funding over the three decades, as measured in today's dollars. It would be in addition to the existing 0.5% transportation sales tax approved by county voters under Measure J in 2004 -- that tax is set to expire in 2034.
More than 23% of the Measure X tax revenue would be intended to maintain and improve local streets in the county, under the proposed transportation expenditure plan.
Funds would also go toward major streets (10.4% of tax revenue), bus transit and ferry services (12%), pedestrian and bicycle facilities (4%), transportation services for seniors, people with disabilities and schoolchildren (6.2% combined).
Hurd said she initially thought the school board should consider endorsing Measure X because of its impact on the San Ramon Valley's TRAFFIX school congestion relief program.
"If approved by the voters, Measure X will allow the current TRAFFIX program to expand, which I believe is a positive outcome for the school district. This is why I was supportive of the district taking a support position," said Hurd, who represents the school district on the TRAFFIX Board of Directors, along with Marvel.
The one-page proposed resolution stated the board would have endorsed Measure X while citing the positive impact of TRAFFIX and the tax expenditure plan's support of improvements on major highways, local streets, public transit, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and transportation for residents with disabilities.
During their discussion Oct. 4, a majority of board members thought Measure X didn't really fall in their official purview, with the board having no authority nor oversight over how a majority of the tax funds would be spent, according to proposed minutes of the meeting.
"After hearing that three of my fellow board members were uncomfortable taking a position on a measure for which they saw only a small relationship to the school district, I felt I needed to respect their discomfort and not put them in the position of abstaining or voting against the resolution," Hurd said about why she ultimately decided to support not voting on a Measure X endorsement.
"Our taking action in support or against any issue is an optional activity. If we don't take a position, there is no harm done," she added.
Marvel again voted in dissent, saying he wanted the board to take a vote on endorsing Measure X.
"I disagreed, pointing out that the benefit to the school district is both in thousands of students getting to school safely and in the millions per year in sales tax dollars that are going directly to supporting school busing in the Valley and the corresponding reduction in traffic throughout the Valley," he said.