Opponents of Measure K question claims that sales tax extension will help teacher housing

Committees for and against Measure K are battling over whether the 20-year sales tax extension will bring affordable housing to San Mateo County teachers.

Committees for and against Measure K are battling over whether the 20-year sales tax extension will bring affordable housing to San Mateo County teachers.

Proponents of the measure – a committee known as Yes on K – argue that a portion of the collected funds will aide affordable housing projects, benefiting teachers. Opponents – a group named Stop Measure K: Why Now? – call the message deceiving, saying that as a general tax, revenue from Measure K can’t be earmarked for specific projects.

Measure K is a countywide initiative, which would extend by 20 years the existing half-cent sales tax known as Measure A. Passed by voters in 2013, Measure A is set to expire in 2023. If Measure K passes, the tax would continue until 2043. Ultimately, the board of supervisors for San Mateo County has final say over how funds are allocated.

The battle over Measure K comes as San Mateo County school districts seek to recruit and retain teachers, as salaries have not kept pace with soaring housing costs. A statewide shortage, coupled with the Peninsula’s high cost of living, has left many districts struggling to fill classrooms with qualified teachers. And the measure has sparked debate about how to solve this problem.

“Measure K is not a solution for teacher housing, especially not now, because it will not take effect until Measure A expires,” said Stop Measure K: Why Now? Chairman Matt Grocott, in an email.

But Campaign Manager for Yes on K, Evelyn Stivers, said housing projects need a longer-term commitment and the tax has a higher chance of being approved in a presidential election year.

“We know this measure will do better when there’s a high voter turnout. Right now there’s a lot of support and interest,” she said in an interview after she addressed residents at the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Day Conference on Oct. 14. “We have the political opportunity now, so we are taking it.”

Michael Lane, policy director for the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, an advocacy group, said Measure A funds have already been used to support affordable housing. And the estimated extra $85 million a year from Measure K would allow for more flexibility and possibility to continue the efforts.

“The crisis is now,” he said in an interview. “Voters are wanting the county to address it with bold action and so this is the proposal that goes forward that has the support that we can do now.”

Stivers said the county is devising innovative approaches to provide affordable housing for teachers, including partnerships with a number of school districts, who are looking to build workforce housing on district sites.

“There’s no funding plan associated with the Measure K funds but it is the type of project that Measure K could be used for,” she said.

Yes on K has raised about $1 million dollars in donations, which has been used for television, social media and mailed advertisements, Stivers said. A recently debuted commercial and corresponding flier feature the story of Barbara O’Neil, a middle school teacher in San Mateo County struggling to pay her rent. The ad includes a personal note from O’Neil urging residents to vote yes on Measure K.

The Yes on K website tells voters it will “promote affordability and protect our unique quality of life with NO new taxes,” funding critical facilities and services throughout the county.

Yes on K has received support from organizations in education, labor, environment, social services and politics, business coalitions and other community leaders and elected officials. San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell, is one of seven education officials on the endorsement list.

“I support Measure K because I believe the resources it can provide to people throughout San Mateo County is impressive,” Campbell said in a phone interview. “I know the Board of Supervisors is committed to trying to do everything they can to be sure that people who couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the county can.”

Stop Measure K has gathered support through social media, e-mails and letters to newspapers. The organization’s 460 form shows it has received $1,958.64 in contributions.

“Let’s be more transparent, nothing new is going to come, no additional money in 2017,” said Stop Measure K advisor Linda Koelling. “The affordable housing problem is not going to cease to exist, it’s not going to even be dealt with. What I’m saying is, why now?”

The tagline, “Why Now,” targets the early action of extending Measure A, which faces seven years before expiration.

“Why not wait to see the efficacy of what the money used via Measure A does, when we get closer to 2023,” Koelling said in an interview. “That’s the way to go, rather than this smoke and mirrors thing.”

Amid the battle over Measure K, residents are expressing their frustration about the shortage of affordable housing. At an Oct. 15 protest in Redwood City, nearly 200 protesters gathered at City Hall to lobby against evictions and for affordable housing. The crowd voiced concerns over housing and mixed opinions over Measure K.

“Why not now?” said Cassandra Roberts, a San Mateo County native, who is currently homeless. “I’m going to do more research on it, but I’ll probably vote on it because anything to help the community.”

  • “I love San Mateo County, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna always fight for the underdog,” says Cassandra Roberts at a protest Saturday morning in Redwood City, Calif. Oct. 15, 2016. (Bethney Bonilla/Peninsula Press).
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