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Prop 13: How A Vote Can Restore School Infrastructure Statewide

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Graphic By Nicolas Perez

One day, a friend of mine pointed out the awkward shape jutting out of my room’s wall, and before long I realized it was a mushroom. I never quite understood why a mushroom sprouted on the ceiling of my freshman dorm room in Arroyo Vista. But I knew there must be a water-leak or other failure in the building that caused the fungus to find enough moisture to survive in such an unlikely spot.

No doubt you have also seen or experienced your own examples of the lack of maintenance and investment in the buildings at UC Irvine. Whether it’s the proliferation of trailers housing programs or flooring warped by water damage in aging structures, UCI and all the state’s four-year universities have damage due to huge backlogs of deferred maintenance.These were caused by the sharp decline in state funds for building maintenance, improvements and other capital investments in California’s universities and colleges during the great recession.

As a result, many of us find ourselves in seismically deficient classrooms, working with outdated equipment and occasionally shut out of certain courses because of the limited class space. Across the state, millions of students attend classes in rundown, obsolete, unsafe and unhealthy facilities which can harm their education as well as their health.

That’s why I’m joining with the bipartisan California Coalition for Public Higher Education, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters and military veterans to seek a yes vote on Prop. 13, an education bond measure on the March 3 ballot. If passed, it will provide $15 billion in new funds to protect the health and safety of the state’s students in public school systems serving students from preschool through college graduation — with the priority placed on fixing the earthquake, fire and other disaster resistance in buildings.

The Secretary of State gave the California Public Preschool, K-12 and College Health and Safety Bond the same number as a more famous tax measure, Prop 13. This bond was created in 1978 and overcame harsh criticism to be passed. The 2020 version of Prop. 13 is different, as it goes beyond the scope of its 1978 predecessor. It is the strongest statewide school bond measure in California history and the first one since 2006 to provide significant money for higher education infrastructure.

The bond measure will provide $6 billion to be divided equally among UC, CSU and Community Colleges. Another $9 billion will go to preschool-12 schools to replace unsafe drinking water systems, repair dilapidated classrooms, remove mold and asbestos and make many other needed repairs to ensure the schools are safe.

The bond measure includes robust taxpayer accountability measures that strictly limit administrative costs and mandate independent performance audits of any project it funds. Public hearings will be conducted to ensure public input, and campuses that receive the funds will be required to develop five-year plans to create more affordable student housing.

Because rundown buildings are most often found in low-income school districts, the proposition includes key reforms to ensure equitable school facilities spending by investing in districts that most need the funds.

Investing in the higher public education infrastructure is not an option for California, it is a necessity. As the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) noted, the retirement of the baby boomers represents the first time in California’s history that such a large and well-educated generation is exiting the labor force. 

Their exodus from the workforce is the main reason the PPIC said the state will need 1.1 million more graduates with bachelor’s degrees in the next 10 years than are expected to graduate now. But meeting employers’ demand for educated workers will be challenging in California’s aging public higher education systems. Nearly 60% of the UC’s public buildings are more than 30 years old, with 42% of that space built between 1950 and 1980. In CSU, half the space is 40 years or older, and a third is more than 50 years old.

So if we wish to have the educated workforce keep the economy strong, we need to be sure we’re registered to vote and then vote yes on Prop. 13.

If you haven’t already, you can register to vote here. The deadline is Feb. 18. If you’re already registered at home — and not going to be there on election day — you can get an absentee ballot by completing this form.

The March 3 election will be an important one, with Californians expected to help pick the next Democratic presidential nominee. For those who don’t think voting matters, please know that some elections have been decided by as little as one vote.

Don’t let your vote be the one that keeps us from having dorm rooms free of fungi, updated equipment and seismically safe buildings at UC Irvine and all of California’s four-year public universities and colleges. Register and vote yes on Prop. 13 on March 3.

Dashay Richmond serves as Associated Students UCI external vice president and UC Student Association chair and can be reached at