12:22 PM PST, February 5, 2013
Burbank voters in coming months will be asked to approve two ballot initiatives during two different elections to generate funds for two different entities — the school district and the city.
The catch? They’re both called Measure S.
The dual naming — an accident, officials said — could cause confusion among voters who participate in two elections that have historically low turnouts.
On March 5, the city of Los Angeles primary, voters will be asked to weigh in on Burbank Unified School District’s Measure S, a $110-million bond to improve schools.
Just a month later on the April 9, Burbank’s general election, voters will be asked to approve the city’s Measure S — a special tax on trash and sewer bills to subsidize the fees for low-income seniors and disabled people.
City and school officials said they finalized the plans independently around roughly the same time last fall, but by the time they realized the snafu, it was too late.
“That was just two ships passing in the night,” said school board President Larry Applebaum. “We didn’t know these were conflicting until the nomenclature had already been decided and it couldn’t be changed.”
Had the two measures been on the same ballot, not only would the name overlap have been avoided, but the measure would have been simpler to promote, Applebaum said.
“It would’ve been an easier sell to the community if we didn’t have to both educate them on the ballot and also educate them on when it’s being heard,” Applebaum said.
But state law says school bonds — which under Proposition 39 require a 55% majority — can’t be approved via a mail-in ballot, which is the only way residents can vote in the Burbank election.
So, Burbank Unified was forced to piggyback on the Los Angeles Community College District election — the lowest turnout election in Burbank — which is already a part of the Los Angeles election.
The school district had submitted four name options for the initiative to the Community College District, which in turn passed the designations on to the city of Los Angeles. The measure name “S” — which stood for “schools” — was the district’s second choice, Applebaum said.
“The ultimate arbiter of what the designation was fell to the city of L.A.,” Applebaum said.
The city, on the other hand, named the initiative “S” for “special tax,” said City Atty. Amy Albano.
“There was no magic to that,” she said.
School district officials have been aggressively campaigning for the bond by knocking on doors and plastering campaign posters all over the city.
That’s because voters this week will be bombarded with sample ballots for the March 5 election, as well as ballot packages for the Feb. 26 Burbank primary.
“That, in and of itself, is going to be confusing to people,” Applebaum said. “It’s important for us to get out the message.”
But if the city chooses to distribute informational packets about the city’s Measure S, it wouldn’t be until after the March 5 election, Albano said.
“I think it’ll be very clear for people that one has to do with the school bond, other has to do with a special tax,” Albano said.
The city’s special tax measure would raise $413,000 — costing residents roughly $10 to $15 a year — to save eligible low-income seniors and disabled residents $25 to $35 a month on their trash and sewer services.
The program already exists today — the cost has been embedded in residents’ bills for more than 20 years. But the city faces legal risks if it continues to operate the program under the current structure.
The city’s initiative requires a two-thirds majority.
-- Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News