One honest man

One honest man

Why Bill Bibbiani sees Measure A as the worst thing that could happen to local schools

By Kevin Uhrich 05/31/2012

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Looking over the ballot arguments for and against Measure A, which would divide the Pasadena Unified School District into seven sub-districts and change Pasadena Board of Education elections from at-large to sub-district contests, one can’t help but see a little bit of Diogenes of Sinope, also known as Diogenes the Cynic, in Measure A’s chief critic, Bill Bibbiani.
 
The ancient philosopher, who lived from 412 to 323 BC, made a regular practice of criticizing Greek society’s great leaders; Alexander the Great, Plato, it didn’t matter to him. He became known for living a life of poverty as a way of attaining virtue and is probably most famous for carrying a lantern around in search of “one honest man.”
 
Not that all the people supporting Measure A — crafted by a citizen’s task force and backed by Mayor Bill Bogaard and a host of other highly honorable public officials and public figures — are dishonest. Far from it.  
 
But it strikes us as a little bit odd that Bibbiani, a guy who worked as a top administrator with the PUSD for more than 30 years, then served on the Board of Education, is the only person even remotely connected to Pasadena officialdom — and, for that matter, one of few people in possession of day-to-day operational knowledge of the district — opposed to this idea of creating sub-districts.
 
And why is Bib, as he’s known virtually to everyone in town (or Bibbogenes, as we’ve come to call him), against this? Because he feels that sub-districts will create a situation in which people will actually have less representation and less political power following elections, which he believes can be more easily bought, or worse, hijacked, by a handful of voters. 
 
On paper, it seems Measure A will accomplish all that it claims it will do: create roughly equal districts by population, increase voting opportunities for minority candidates and make running for office cheaper and easier for underfunded and unknown candidates. 
 
But considering Bib was actually there through all the racial tumult of the 1970s and possesses intimate knowledge of the district’s history and all its current demographic and financial realities — and, importantly, always supported and actually devoted his working life to school integration — we have to wonder if there isn’t more to his argument, something that all but one honest man happened to miss.
 
As Bib points out in a column that appears in our online edition, school board elections are now being modeled after City Council elections, which were changed from at large to district-only in the 1970s as a way to increase voting and other political opportunities among the city’s growing neighborhoods of color. However, “the city’s electoral practices are not a model for the schools,” Bib writes. “City Council members deal primarily with a set of finite matters — police and fire protection, water and power, traffic control, etc. which are of particular concern to particular neighborhoods or residents. School board members rarely deal with issues which are unique to a particular area of the district. Their obligations are limited by law to matters of policy and oversight, to ensure that the district’s $180 million budget is allocated to meet the needs of all students district-wide.” 
 
And what Measure A really does, he argues, is dilute the political strength of stakeholders in the education system, who under the current procedures have seven potential advocates on the board, as opposed to just one representative, who could be less than functional as policymakers and may or may not racially represent families in those increasingly ethnically diversifying neighborhoods.
 
“Actually, [Measure A’s] only guaranteed effect will be to significantly reduce the voting rights of all voters and blocs thereof, wherever they live. Under the current system of ‘at-large’ elections, citizens get to vote for [or against] all seven board members whenever they are up for election, and to affect the balance of power on the board every two years. Under Measure A, voters will be limited to voting for one board member only, every four years — a single member from a single sub-district whose boundaries have been drawn in large part based on a committee’s perception of its overall racial/ethnic characteristics,” he writes.
 
“Such elections will ensure that six of the seven board members will have no political incentive to even pick up the phone when voters from outside their sub-district call, whereas members elected at large have to develop a district wide constituency. … Measure A will result in racially-oriented, ward-based ‘what’s in it for me’ politics and politicians.”
 
As Bib points out, if people vote yes, it will be extremely difficult to return to the old way board members get elected. 
 
But if people vote no, it’s not too late to change. There is always the next election, before which additional arguments can be presented more fully to the voting public for a deeper understanding of the many complex and ever-evolving issues involved with this latest twist in the 40-year-long and ongoing social-engineering experiment that is public education in Pasadena. 
 
To read both sides of the argument, visit pasadenaweekly.com.
 
Vote No on Measure A
Proposition 28 
Term limits have been one of the most contentious issues facing Californians over the past several decades. Just how long should an elected politician remain in office? Better yet, when does an entrenched politician’s tenure become untenable, more of a liability than an asset to the people who said pol is ostensibly “serving?” Is it when that official has turned his office into a self-serving money-making machine, or is it when the official fails to do even the basics in terms of fulfilling their responsibilities to their constituents?
 
Having seen any number of politicians become millionaires while in public office, we thought the currently in place idea of limiting years served was reasonable — 14 years in office, including a maximum of six years (three terms) in the state Assembly and eight years (two terms) in the state Senate.
 
But we like the latest idea — Proposition 28 — even better. Under the terms of this ballot measure, future members of the Legislature could serve a total of 12 years in office — either in the Assembly or in the Senate. This means they won’t have to jump from one house to another just to stay in office. It also means they will have just enough time to become mature enough and familiar enough with their jobs to actually get something done, besides become wealthy.
Vote “Yes” on Proposition 28.
 
Proposition 29
We hate to admit it, but this time Big Tobacco makes a pretty good point about Proposition 29, the latest effort to eradicate the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products by taxing them so heavily that no one would be able to purchase them. Proposition 29, according to our state voter’s ballot, would impose a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes, which would generate $735 million by the end of the next fiscal year.
 
Opponents of the measure say it would be one thing to use those tax dollars for funding something like, say, education, or even throwing a few hundred million dollars into resuscitating our near-death health-care system or devoting some of this tremendous and immediate windfall to affordable housing. 
 
But that isn’t where any those additional tax dollars would go. In this case, the extra money goes exclusively to cancer research. While a noble cause, now is not the time to put even more burdens on people, even smokers, who tend to be poor or lower middle-class people already under enough stress and strain making ends meet. Let’s not forget, foul air, foul water and a host of other manmade poisons also cause cancer, not just cigarettes.
 
Now, if we could put just some of that same money toward improving basic practical things — public education, public medicine, public housing, public transit, environmental protection/cleanup — we’d go for such a tax. We’d even go one better and have the state impose a $1 tax on every six-pack of beer and fifth of vodka or bourbon. 
Vote No on Proposition 29

Following are our recommendations for Congress, the state Senate and the state Assembly:
Last year’s state redistricting hearings produced a number of shifts in California’s political boundaries, with a few of those regional disruptions generating enough energy to actually shake sitting politicians out of office. 
 
Locally, Democratic state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge was terming out of office as state and federal political maps were being redrawn by a bipartisan redistricting committee. 
 
Living in a city already represented by longtime Democratic incumbent US Rep. Adam Schiff, Portantino eyed a run for the new 39th Congressional District seat, formerly the 26th District, held by Republican Congressman David Dreier. With the district now heavily Democratic, Dreier was out of a job. But come January, Portantino, after raising $300,000, backed out, citing concerns over the poor health of his mother. 
 
Meanwhile, incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu, formerly representing the 32nd Congressional District, is running Tuesday for the newly created 27th District, which includes Pasadena.
 
Although the presidential end of the election is pretty well settled, the California Primary this year is open, meaning the two top vote getters in each race — regardless of party affiliation — will square off on Nov. 6.
 
In Tuesday’s race for the newly created 41st Assembly District, formerly Portantino’s 44th District, which now includes Altadena, Claremont, East Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge, La Verne, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Dimas and Sierra Madre, we support Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden.
 
In the race for the new 25th Senate District, formerly the 21st Senate District, which now includes Altadena, Bradbury, Burbank, Claremont, Duarte, Glendale, Glendora, La Cañada Flintridge, La Verne, parts of Los Angeles, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Dimas, San Marino, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena and Upland, we support Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu.
 
In the race for the 29th Congressional District, formerly the 27th District prior to redistricting, which currently includes Alhambra, San Gabriel, Burbank, Glendale, South Pasadena, Temple City, Monterey Park, Montrose, La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge, Glendale, Burbank, Silver Lake, Hollywood and West Hollywood, we endorse Democratic US Rep. Adam Schiff.
 
And in the 27th Congressional District, which now includes Sierra Madre, Altadena, Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia, Temple City, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Alhambra as well as the San Gabriel Mountains, we endorse and welcome Democratic US Rep. Judy Chu. 

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Comments

Kevin,

In trying to draw your conclusion, you have actually proved the point of those in favor of Measure A. Bib IS the only person against Measure A for intellectually honest (but wrong) reasons. Others are simply fighting phantom machines and unfounded alliances. They are truly more interested in maintaining incumbent power than real decisions.

You're right. Bib went through the racial wars of the 1970s...which brought us bussing...which, arguably, destroyed the PUSD. It tore pieces away from the whole, pushed middle class residents from the District and all the while the Board members in favor of it said, "Wait...don't go...wait...we have the numbers." And what happened while Bib was on staff? Nothing. The Board and staff in those battles were completely and honest well-intentioned. Many of them are friends and people I respect...including Bib. But they must admit that the experiment did not work.

And now, we see the next chapter. We are not the District of the 1970s. We are a complex urban school district with many ethnicities, languages, communities of interest and, not insignificantly, terrible financial pressures. Bib is not right...Board members deal with educational issues AND land-use issues. Just note the closure of schools and the issue confronting San Rafael Elementary school at this time. It's far more important for a Board member to understand educationally what kids need AND what his/her community needs in the way of schools. You NEED local representation if you want to hear local voices. You MUST have local voices at the Board level to get resources distributed where the kids are. Measure A would allow this to happen.

Bib has his light, albeit an old one from the 70s. And he's found the United Teachers of Pasadena, the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, the Teamsters, Invest in Pasadena Kids, NAACP, Armenian Community Coalition, Pasadena Latino Coalition and many, many others in support of Measure A. How much more evidence does one need to have to know that Measure A is the right thing to do at this time?

Vote Yes on Measure A.

ken

posted by Chawkins on 6/02/12 @ 06:18 p.m.

Bib may be honest, but I think he and Kevin are wrong on this one. There is one reason to vote for measure A at this point and that is it will take money away from our classrooms if it fails (due to the resulting lawsuit, after which we will be forced to adopt the region-based sub-districts anyway).

I think there would have been potential alternatives to this approach, however, they needed to have been worked on a year ago, before the districting plan--and its expenses--was approved, not a few weeks before the election, after all the work was done and all the money was spent.

It should also be noted that, while it is true it will change the nature of the board member to constituent representation, that fact is not inconsistent with the basic goal of the voting rights act, which is to prohibit a district-wide majority from disenfranchising the entire minority community by denying them any electoral representation whatsoever.

Finally, it is not possible for a community to decide to not comply with the voting rights act, so even rejection will not achieve what Bib and Kevin claim.

posted by navigio on 6/05/12 @ 09:46 a.m.
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