Say no to Measure L

October 31, 2014
Matt Kokkonen

Matt Kokkonen


Just about everyone in San Luis Obispo County likes Cuesta College and that is why the trustees ask for your vote to pass the $275 million bond Measure L.

This bond is in addition to all the other tax increases our county residents and property owners are asked to pass. There is also a $7.5 billion state “water” bond. Where does it stop? SLO City pension fund alone is underfunded by $155 million. SLO County’s pension fund is unfunded by $300 million. And they want us to borrow more? L –No!

The Trustees assert that the money is needed to pay essentially for facility repairs and upgrades. This clearly shows how inept and irresponsible they have been by permitting such deterioration. They set the budget annually and needed to fund the facility upkeep adequately. They failed to do that. Instead they used the monies for salaries and benefits to the tune of 80 percent of Cuesta’s budget. In summary, the real reason Cuesta College Trustees want the bond money is because they have failed to monitor and oversee the college facilities properly.

In fact, California Proposition 30, which passed in 2012, provided an extra $6,900,000 to Cuesta this year. The funds are being spent entirely on instructional salaries. Other benefits, such as pensions, will add to the cost. Why not use all or some of the Prop 30 monies for the repair of identified broken down facilities? Trustees specifically rejected using any of that $6,900,000 for other permissible areas, namely operating expenses or capital outlays. Trustees therefore again fall short of using good judgment.

Paradoxically, Cuesta has prided itself, appropriately so, as a school for vocational education and training. Yet the bond is to repair many facility deficiencies and hazards, specifically the kinds of skills it teaches. Why not utilize the students with the staff in the repairs and upgrades for their learning experience? Unfortunately, the college has also eliminated vocational projects, such as masonry, which was actually wholly financed by private industry.

If the bond passes and enslaves property owners to 34 years of additional property taxes, we will pay for inflated construction costs of 28 percent because Cuesta will require use of union labor. The trustees have not safeguarded the public‘s right for lowest costs by not maintaining the ability to engage non-union construction companies and contracts.

Prop 30 requires trustees to identify how the tax allocation was going to be spent. For 2013, it amounted to $6,900,000. The other years’ allocations have not yet been specified but the trustees passed three resolutions identifying how the monies for each of the three years would be spent. True to form, each year’s allocation was directed entirely towards instructional salaries. The trustees specifically elected not to allot any monies for operating expenses or for capital outlay, the other two options on the form. And, pension costs are added to the salary expenses.

However, only Resolution 09-15 for the 2014 allocation records each trustee’s votes and proves the unanimous vote. Resolutions 07-13 and 08-14 are defective by not identifying the trustees’ votes, thereby not proving the majority vote. Yet the resolutions were signed by the president of the trustee board. Therefore the expenditures for the $6,900,000 are improper and probably illegal by not proving the claimed majority votes.

Proposition L claims to include stringent fiscal accountability by requiring citizens’ oversight of all funds. Actually, this is why the trustees were voted in to begin with and what they have failed to do as proven by this vast tax measure they hope to be rewarded with. It has been the trustees job to oversee the plant. They have failed to do so.

Another red herring in the measure is the prohibition against using the monies for administrators’ salaries and pensions. This sounds good. But, this same prohibition was included in the State proposition 30. That did not prevent the trustees from allocating all of it to other staff salaries. In addition, even that administrative salary prohibition is ludicrous since the group of administrators, managers, supervisors and confidentials as a whole amounts to only 4.8 percent of Cuesta’s faculty and staff of 746. Administrators by themselves amount to less than 1 percent of the staff. Big deal.

Cuesta has already borrowed money without a vote of the public. How transparent is that? While it is understandable that a tax funded entity like Cuesta always wants to increase its income, the timing of this measure is wrong, the amount is excessive and the rationale is misplaced. Taxpayers are not against taxes per se, but they want good value for their money. They also expect their representatives to manage the public’s assets with good judgment and tight fiscal controls. In these, the trustees Patrick Mullen, President Angela Mitchell, Barbara George, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander have failed. Their mismanagement and lack of supervision have jeopardized the viability of Cuesta College.

Why should only SLO residents go in debt to pay for the education of the students, vast majority of whom come from outside our county? And what about the illegal aliens who pay only the very low resident tuition which is highly subsidized and mostly funded by SLO residents? How fair is that, while legal students from other states would pay much higher tuition?

During a recent show, Dave Congalton questioned my assertion that most of the students at Cuesta came from outside of the county. He called his wife Charlotte Alexander who is a Trustee running for re-election currently. She stated that 60 percent came from San Luis Obispo county. When challenged by me, his spirited response was only suitable for a “good radio” show but was not factual. However, Cuesta’s published data states that much less than 50% of students come from our county. SLO County property owners do not want additional 30+ year taxes.

Other persuasive and detailed arguments against Measure L have been written by SLO City Council member Dan Carpenter and others.

Since the current trustees have failed to provide proper budgetary discipline to manage the existing facilities, their mismanagement should not be covered up and bailed out with this unaffordable $275,000,000 extra debt and increase in everyone’s property taxes. Cuesta needs to trim enough to live within its means just as everyone else has to do. They must prioritize the spending instead of automatically funding more and more staff and salaries. Only that way will Cuesta remain a viable community college with continued and willing county tax payer support.

And the current Trustees whose terms are up now need to be voted out and replaced. They are Patrick Mullen, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander.

Measure L? L – No!

Matt Kokkonen is a financial advisor and former Congressional candidate who lives in san Luis Obispo.



  1. falconbh says:

    With the lingering impact of the Great Recession on so many on limited incomes and the working poor it is amazing how many New Tax Increases are on this costly ballot . From Sales Taxes, Overzealous Building Taxes,and Double Taxation Road Tax.
    Example,Grover Beach Road Tax, can last 45 years , 50 to 150 dollars per 100,000.
    These New Tax Increases will only increase each citizen taxpayers debt to the government.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. guest says:

    Vote NO on the Cuesta bond! The college just can’t responsibly or professionally handle taxpayer money.

    Their problems abound! High administrator, part-time faculty and classified staff turn over. Token race-based hiring practices (Euro Caucasians have the wrong skin color). Several under-performing programs. Some excessively tax-subsidized programs with NO accountability. Low student enrollment. Poor reputation among students. A campus culture of personal bias and prejudice that many direct toward each other. A history of lawsuits against the college and admin. Etc.

    Don’t waste taxpayer money! NO on the Cuesta Bond!

    (12) 22 Total Votes - 17 up - 5 down
  3. grayotter says:

    We have the most expensive, least effective school system in the U.S.! Our school systems need to tighten their belts and spend money on effectively teaching our children, not building new empires and increasing cushy wages rewarding inefficiency.

    (10) 18 Total Votes - 14 up - 4 down
  4. JMO says:

    I don’t always agree with Matt, but on this one I am finding it hard to disagree with him. My gut feeling is that Cuesta is shooting for the moon on this one. I have asked but have yet to be able to determine exactly (and I mean exactly) what this money will be spent on. Just a lot of generalities. If you ever worked in the corporate or governmental world, you probably have a good idea how these budgets are created. Everyone makes a wish list for their pet projects with no real fiscal restraint. If push comes to shove (in the corporate world, at least) where you have to defend your individual project, you have to come up with a detailed cost/benefit analysis that passes the smell test. Again, my gut feeling is that if Cuesta gets this money they won’t require serious scrutiny on the projects.

    (17) 23 Total Votes - 20 up - 3 down
  5. unlisted says:

    I’m glad that Matt isn’t my financial adviser if he thinks that three years of Prop 30 money (say $21 million) would make more than a dent on $275 million in repairs, replacements and construction.

    I also really feel for people who can afford a $430,000 home (current median for the county), but can’t afford to pay less than a quarter a day for the Cuesta bond.

    (-18) 30 Total Votes - 6 up - 24 down
    • JMO says:

      Unlisted, why is it that I don’t think you really feel for the people who will be stuck with this tax? Are you current on your rent?

      (13) 13 Total Votes - 13 up - 0 down
      • unlisted says:

        I will also pay for the bonds, JMO. I think the bonds will be a good investment for the community that will ultimately pay us more in dividends than it costs. BTW, I own my home and don’t rent. However, renters will also pay for the bonds through their rent.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • Matt K says:

      “Unlisted” missed the point. The trustees voted unanimously to spend the Prop 30 moneys only on instructional salaries.They should have allocated all or at least some of the monies for repairs. It is even worse because they have known about the looming crisis and yet allocated even the next two year’s monies only to salaries.

      The first cure is to get responsible and qualified trustees in office., not people who wanted the position to pad their resumes. Dave Congalton graciously offered to have me present my argument against measure L. He stated that he would not comment on the measure because his wife Charlotte Alexander is a current Cuesta trustee, but then broke rank and got extremely huffy and defensive about my questioning her statistics on where the students to Cuesta came from. More on that later and how Cuesta’s Director of Institutional Research Ryan Cartnal has refused to return my 4 calls to discuss the matter.

      Since Charlotte Alexander is one of offending trustees she should be replaced by someone who is qualified and willing to make tough decisions in order for Cuesta to remain a viable community college. Peter Sysak is a retired college administrator who is running to fill that seat right now. He is qualified. Vote for Peter Sysak on Tuesday.

      “Unlisted” is correct in that he would be a poor match for my services. He is similar to Cuesta College in having been given a budget that includes spending money on repairing his house so that he would have a habitable home to live in at retirement, he choses the spend all of it on big screen TVs, vacations and “good living”, which is paid for by a credit card. I can not help such a person against his own poor habits and lack of discipline. I also really feel for people like “Unlisted” who have fancy toys but nothing in a retirement account. They will be crying for help and want those of you who work and save to bail them out with a refinance.

      (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
      • unlisted says:

        Well, Matt, you’re totally off the mark in your description of my financial habits.

        I’ve paid off my credit cards every month for the last ten years or more, I paid cash for my last new car and the mortgages on my rentals units will be paid off in about five years, so they’ll provide good income to supplement my retirement.

        Just because someone disagrees with your radical tea party beliefs, doesn’t mean they’re a spendthrift or a flake.

        (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
  6. shelworth says:

    Cuesta prides itself on teaching the construction arts, why not have the students fix up the dilapidated buildings for credit? Learn by doing.

    (24) 28 Total Votes - 26 up - 2 down
    • waterworks says:

      Actually this is not legal. Specific standards and licenses are required for capital projects in California.

      (-3) 17 Total Votes - 7 up - 10 down
      • SamLouis says:

        There is absolutely no reason that a Cuesta instructor couldn’t be a licensed contractor and meet all the governmental requirements.

        (11) 21 Total Votes - 16 up - 5 down
  7. sunnyhaven says:

    Cuesta College has a full time, skilled maintenance staff; electricians, carpenters, Heating & AC Techs, mechanics, locksmiths, plumbers, painters, etc. all making good salaries with pensions & benefits. My question is exactly what do these people do in order for the college to deteriorate to need 270 million dollars worth of taxpayer money? And you always see outside contractors hired to do any actual work on any projects. We don’t need to fund any new buildings either, if the college can’t even take care of the existing buildings. Time to rein in the finances & live within your means. No on “L”. No on taxpayers having to foot the bill for your short sightedness.

    (29) 43 Total Votes - 36 up - 7 down
    • waterworks says:

      These are capital projects such as replacing a roofs and hva/c systems, not fixing a lock or replacing toliets. The size of these projects are well beyond what any community collegeor uc/csu’s could do with their staff. Cuesta has actually held out longer than 65 of the 72 Districts in the State of California that have passed bonds. This actually points to Cuesta being able to hold out longer than most before needing local help. This was covered in a kcoy piece last week. My post is not to address the States way of running community colleges, just that it is apparent that Cuesta is doing something better than the rest of the system or they could not have held out this long.

      I know this does not play into the whole no on L thing but it is the truth. Just google the community colleges in cali and you will see.

      (-16) 32 Total Votes - 8 up - 24 down
      • SamLouis says:

        Bull manure.

        First, the decisions to defer facility maintenance year after year to “balance the books” is unbelievably wrong and ultimately hideously expensive. That’s very poor stewardship of taxpayer-owned resources. That makes me question the competency of those in charge, from the head of facility maintenance to the president.

        Second, a skilled maintenance head is going to have the ability to plan and piece together a maintenance group that will be able to tackle enough of these “capital projects” to keep the campus’ head above water from a maintenance standpoint. A carpenter is always going to prefer a soft job over scraping a roof, but if scraping a roof is what’s needed, then that’s the job at hand.

        EXCEPT of course there is the matter of trade unions and the way around that is to terminate the carpenter so a laborer could be hired to do the tough job.

        Third, to suggest Cuesta is “doing something better than the rest of the system” because they have not passed a bond is utter malarkey. Cuesta has not passed a bond (and they most certainly have tried) because they’re not trusted; because they almost closed altogether; because the existing SLO campus is underutilized; because they have never made it clear exactly where the money would be going; because of bad past decisions (deferring maintenance, building a performing arts center, etc.), because they will not address the number of out of county students who treat Cuesta as a feeder to Cal Poly, because of the amount faculty and staff are paid and because of absurdly high bond amounts.

        (12) 22 Total Votes - 17 up - 5 down
  8. SamLouis says:

    Out of state students who attend Cal Poly SLO pay $248 per unit in addition to all the fees paid by residents of CA.

    Cuesta needs to work with state politicians to find a way in which it can charge a fee to out of county students a fee who use Cuesta as a feeder to Cal Poly.

    Perhaps something like $50.00/unit? That would be 20% of what Cal Poly charges — truly a bargain. I think it would be a big step in addressing Cuesta’s financial woes.

    (26) 36 Total Votes - 31 up - 5 down

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