Proposition A - San Francisco Community College District General Obligation Bonds

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2001 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

The San Francisco Community College District (City College of San Francisco/CCSF) is requesting voter authorization for $195 million in General Obligation (G.O.) bonds for a variety of capital projects. This request was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the CCSF Board of Trustees.

Why it is on the ballot

CCSF received the required two-thirds voter approval for $50 million in G.O. bonds in June 1997, the first time it had ever sought approval for G.O. bonds. Those bonds were issued and $21.5 million spent on projects through March 31, 2001, according to a special audit and analysis conducted by an independent CPA firm and commissioned by CCSF to provide public assurance that bond proceeds have been appropriately spent. All projects funded by these bond proceeds are scheduled to be completed by June 2005.

CCSF originally intended to seek approval this year for $285 million in G.O. bonds to cover its capital needs for the next 10 years. The decision was made to request $195 million in bonds instead to cover the next four to five years of Phase I capital expenditures, then to go back to the voters again to request further authorization for Phase II projects.


Those who support this measure state:

  • This community college needs and deserves quality facilities to replace aged and inadequate ones, to properly serve an increasingly diverse population that uses CCSF as a stepping stone to new jobs and careers and to transfer to four-year colleges.
  • The college has decided to ask for voter support for a bond program in two phases, with the Phase I projects having the highest priority, to minimize the impact on the property tax rate and to maximize efforts to leverage this bond funding with state and other monies.
  • CCSF has voluntarily commissioned an independent audit to show that it is properly spending proceeds from its 1997 G.O. bond authorization. (While CCSF has not made the following observation, SPUR notes that both the initiative to commission this audit and the results place CCSF in stark and favorable contrast to the San Francisco Unified School District.)


Those who oppose this measure state:

  • While there is little organized opposition to the bond, opponents say that bonds are needlessly expensive ways to pay for predictable expenses, which should be built pay-as-you-go. Opponents say City College should have established a sinking fund for this purpose years ago.

SPUR's analysis

The largest portions of the requested bond authorization include $75 million to provide matching funds for a new Mission campus and a new Chinatown/North Beach campus and $73 million to fund various improvements at the Phelan Avenue campus, which hosts the highest concentration of student enrollment (over 85,000 annually) on any college campus (two or four year) in the United States. The remaining bond proceeds will be used system-wide to complete a computer network and to finance seismic retrofitting and disability access.

CCSF serves about 100,000 students annually, of which almost 75% represent minorities and underserved populations. Some facilities are over 90 years old, and others were built with an expected life of not more than 20 years, such as outdated bungalows and portable classroom structures. Bond proceeds will be used to replace a pair of 60-year-old physical education buildings that would not survive a significant earthquake with a single Community Health and Wellness Center, to construct a new Student Health Services Center and to build a full-service child care center.

This G.O. bond authorization requires only 55% approval because of last year's state Proposition 39, which lowered the two-third's approval level for K-12 school districts and community college districts for G.O. bonds. Proposition 39 requires an annual independent performance audit to monitor the expenditure of G.O. bond proceeds, which CCSF has already commissioned for its 1997 bond authorization, and also requires that the CCSF Board of Trustees appoint an independent citizens' oversight committee within 60 days of the recording of election results to inform the public on the expenditure of bond proceeds.

Proposition 39 limits any bonds approved under the lower 55% threshold to have a projected tax rate not to exceed $25 per $100,000 assessed valuation. CCSF estimates that the full Phase I and II authorization of $285 million would require a tax rate of $17-18 per $100,000 assessed valuation if issued in its entirety today. That is, a house valued at $500,000 would experience a maximum of $90 in property taxes per year. The actual aggregate tax rate for the full authorization should be lower than this estimate because the bonds would be issued over a ten year period and assessed valuation would presumably grow during this period, requiring a lower tax rate to pay debt service on the same fixed amount of bonds.

CCSF is an extraordinary resource for the city in providing opportunities for individual development and advancement. The voluntary audit is a particularly nice touch, one that would be of value for other city expenditures of G.O. bond proceeds.

The scale of the CCSF building program enabled by this bond measure will transform City College's campuses and facilities. Since CCSF is such an important presence in many city neighborhoods and in the city as a whole, CCSF can play a significant role in improving the character and livability of the city. To realize the full benefits, for both CCSF and the city, of this building program, SPUR recommends that CCSF create plans and policies that will guide CCSF's future development.

Before building, CCSF should develop a comprehensive master plan or plans for their buildings and campuses, which will ensure that the individual building projects enhance the architectural, landscape, and urban design of CCSF's campuses as a whole, and better integrate them into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods. CCSF should develop a transportation program which recognizes the city's 'Transit First" policy, by enhancing access to its facilities by walking, bicycling and transit, and encouraging alternatives to driving alone. CCSF should develop "green building" standards which will reduce the environmental impacts of CCSF buildings, reduce their energy and resource consumption over the life of the buildings, and make them healthier places to work and study. Finally, CCSF should develop progressive policies and practices for preserving, restoring, and maintaining its historic and architecturally significant buildings.

There was some discussion in committee about the city's waning G.O. debt capacity. (See sidebar) City officials argue that available debt capacity should not include authorized but unissued debt, because the city's bond capacity will grow over time as outstanding debt is paid down and assessed valuation will grow. But SPUR believes that the city's debt capacity is seriously dwindling as large requests such as the replacement of S.F. General Hospital loom on the horizon. SPUR recommends that for the future, the city should examine the possibility of canceling the authorization for the Seismic Safety Loan Program if G.O. bond capacity can be better used for other purposes. SPUR also recommends that the city investigate whether G.O. bonds issued for CCSF and the S.F. Unified School District can be considered to be outside of the city's 3% legal debt limit, because these districts are separate governmental entities and their G.O. debt might be classified separately for the purpose of calculating legal debt capacity.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition A.