Pasadena Unified School District placed Measure O on the ballot garnering criticism from the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re in the middle of the worst economic downtown since the Depression,” said Chamber of Commerce President Paul Little. “Everybody’s worried… Every local business that leases space is going to have an increase in rent. Not to mention people who are residential renters who are going to see an increase in their rent because landlords pass the costs on to the tenants.”

According to ballot information, Measure O would allow PUSD to sell “$516,300,000 in bonds at legal rates, levying $45/$100,000 assessed value (averaging $28,504,000 annually)”.

Little and the chamber’s main objections to the bill is poor timing and lack of a plan. As a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 7.9% of the United States is unemployed. Although this is an improvement from 10.2% in July, it is still a drastic increase from February at 3.8%. February’s unemployment rate was one of the lowest on record in the post-World War II era, according to Pew research.

According to the Employment Development Department of California, the unemployment rate in the state fell to 11.4% in August. Last year in the same month the unemployment rate was 3.9%. In the Foothills area, which includes Pasadena, South Pasadena, Arcadia, Duarte, Monrovia and Sierra Madre, the unemployment rate was 13.9% as of September 18.

During the PUSD Board meeting, board members Kimberly Kenne and Elizabeth Pomeroy voted against placing Measure O believing it was rushed onto the ballot with no project list and could cause a financial burden on Pasadena businesses and residents.

Little also expressed his distrust with the PUSD after the school district was nearly taken over by the Los Angeles County Office of Education after PUSD faced financial insolvency last year.

“It’s just the wrong time, why not wait a couple of years [and] show some financial responsibility,” Little said.

Little also believes that the increase in the taxes would close down businesses already operating on a tight budget and may drive residents away with higher rents. In turn, this would further deplete the school population of PUSD.

PUSD Vice President Scott Phelps disagrees with Little’s view.

“I believe the economy is recovering and this (measure) won’t impact them immediately,” Phelps said. “We wouldn’t sell the bonds for at least a year—six months to a year… In the first two years, it would increase somebody’s property tax by $20 per $100,000 of assessed value.”

He added that after the first two years the rate would increase to $45 per assessed value per $100,000.

According to Phelps, in the first two years, if one owns a home worth $600,000 it would cost them an extra $120 a year or $10 a month. However, the median home in Pasadena is worth about $800,000, and using Phelps’ math, it would cost an average resident an extra $160 or about $13 a month.

“That’s not going to be the difference to anybody leaving town or moving away,” Phelps said. “Now if you’re a commercial business sure your property is worth more and so it’ll increase a little more.”

According to Phelps, if a business’s property is worth $6 million the property tax would increase $1200 or $100 a month.

“A whole lot of people are working less hours than they have before and bringing home less money and there are businesses that are making almost no money,” said Little. “Any increase is potentially fatal to homeowners, businesses and renters.”

Also addressing the lack of a plan, Phelps cited the information on the ballot for Measure O.

According to the sample ballot, the funds must be used to:

1. Remove hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint, from older schools

2. Improve student access to subjects such as science, technology, engineering, the arts and math

3. Retain and attract quality teachers

4. Upgrade schools to prepare students for high school, college and careers

5. Repair leaky roofs, improve student safety with updated smoke detectors, fire alarms and sprinklers and provide safe drinking water

In addition to the criteria by which these funds must be used for, independent audits and an independent citizen committee will oversee the use of funds to ensure that they are spent for only the authorized uses.   

“It takes investment to have great facilities,” Phelps said. “If you believe that the public schools should have nice facilities like the private schools then you should support it.”

Even though the changes would not affect residents and businesses for an estimated two years, Little still believes the effects will harm Pasadena.

“They’re talking about this whole recession settling out in maybe 2022 and settling out means leveling off at whatever level we’re going to be at,” said Little. “What’s the rush?”