Chula Vista East Side's Mello-Roos Mess

Parents meet at Otay Ranch mall to discuss the district’s allocation of Mello-Roos funds. Many feel the funds should stay in the areas where they’re collected.
  • Parents meet at Otay Ranch mall to discuss the district’s allocation of Mello-Roos funds. Many feel the funds should stay in the areas where they’re collected.

Sweetwater Union High School District parents who live east of I-805 in Chula Vista are demanding that the district account for the way their Mello-Roos homeowner assessments are being spent. Parents are paying, in addition to property tax, a special assessment that goes to the school district, yet they believe the quality of their children’s education is declining.

Sweetwater parent Mark Witcher said in an August 11 interview, “Mello-Roos taxes keep going up — they were just raised 2 percent — but we weren’t even informed of the increase and haven’t had a chance to give our input about them.”

One of Witcher’s main concerns is that the Mello-Roos money collected by the Sweetwater district is being misspent. The district used $1.5 million in Mello-Roos monies to purchase iPads for all of its seventh graders. Witcher said, “I don’t believe that was appropriate. The money is supposed to be used for new schools or infrastructure, not for iPads.”

Interim superintendent Ed Brand instituted a policy allowing students to attend any school in the district. East side schools are now crowded.

Interim superintendent Ed Brand instituted a policy allowing students to attend any school in the district. East side schools are now crowded.

Witcher also said he listened to a video made by Sweetwater interim superintendent Ed Brand in which Brand talked about the millions in Mello-Roos funds the district has collected. Witcher wondered if the district has millions in the accounts, why hasn’t there been a swimming pool built at Otay Ranch High School, as promised. His son, who is on the water-polo team, had to be bused to a distant west-side swimming pool for his daily practice.

Sweetwater parent Mark Witcher complains, “Mello-Roos taxes keep going up…and [we] haven’t had a chance to give our input.”

Sweetwater parent Mark Witcher complains, “Mello-Roos taxes keep going up…and [we] haven’t had a chance to give our input.”

The Sweetwater Union High School District has 17 Mello-Roos districts, all but one located on the east side. Overlapping most of these districts are the Chula Vista Elementary School District’s 13 Mello-Roos districts and the City of Chula Vista’s 13 bond-issuing Mello-Roos districts, as well as the city’s Mello-Roos maintenance districts. Mello-Roos homeowners pay property tax in addition to Mello-Roos taxes; however, unlike property taxes, Mello-Roos taxes are not deductible.

The Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 set up the new tax in the wake of Proposition 13; the taxes provided developers with money for infrastructure. Bonds were sold in order to pay for the construction of schools, roads, sewers, and parks.

Prior to Proposition 13, which was passed in 1978, school boards and city councils looked to local property taxes to finance these projects. Ironically, the popular Proposition 13 vote that sought to reduce and control taxes tied new homeowners to a higher parcel tax that, in the case of the Sweetwater Mello-Roos districts, has a built-in annual increase of 2 percent.

In the early 1980s, shortly after the passage of Prop 13, vast tracts of undeveloped land in eastern Chula Vista lay heavy on developers’ hands. Because property tax was no longer available for development, Mello-Roos became the tool to finance the city’s east-side expansion.

Gerald Hanono, a native Chula Vistan and Stanford University student, wrote a 110-page thesis titled “California Dreamin’” on the effects of Mello-Roos on Chula Vista. Hanono wrote, “Mello-Roos made its entrance to Chula Vista in 1986 when, after being petitioned by the EastLake Co., the [Chula Vista Elementary School District] Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to begin the process for the EastLake I development. The [Sweetwater Union High School District] soon followed suit. Since the EastLake Co. held all the land (the houses were constructed but not sold), the rest of the process was academic; homeowners were to be forced to pay the bond assessments.”

According to information Hanono obtained from the San Diego County tax assessor, Mello-Roos assessments vary dramatically. In 2011, the total median annual Mello-Roos tax paid by a resident of EastLake I was $970.64; Rancho del Rey, $1145.00; EastLake II, $1146.02; Otay Ranch, $3255.54; and EastLake III, $3487.82.

The total Mello-Roos tax collected from a resident is shared between the agencies that administer the Mello-Roos districts. Hanono demonstrates the disbursement: “For fiscal year 2011–2012, the median EastLake I resident, whose home was constructed in l988, will pay $970.64 in Mello-Roos assessments, which breaks down to $727.60 for its Sweetwater facilities district and $242.68 for its Chula Vista Elementary facilities district.”

At the other end of the spectrum is an Otay Ranch home, built in 2001, that pays a total of $3255.54 in Mello-Roos taxes, with $1008.14 for the Sweetwater Union High School District, $815.40 for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, and $1432 in other Mello-Roos assessments.

While all the homeowners claim the same educational benefits, the numbers indicate that some subdivisions are paying more than others. The disparity between subdivisions is further exacerbated by the fact that another eastern subdivision, Rolling Hills Ranch, pays no Mello-Roos.

Many people moved to Mello-Roos districts because of the schools — they are willing to pay more if it buys their children a better education. But Sweetwater has not enjoyed a good reputation in the past few years, and when some Mello-Roos homeowners found out that their fees had just been increased, they requested a meeting with Sweetwater superintendent Ed Brand. They scheduled a meeting in an Eastlake school for Thursday, August 30, but had to relocate to the Otay Ranch Town Center mall when Brand backed out.

At the meeting, parents discussed their discontent — both with Brand backing out and with Mello-Roos issues. They argued that the benefit from the extra money they pay is being diluted because of a recent policy instituted by Brand referred to as “open boundaries.” The policy allows any child in the district to transfer to any school in the district. As a consequence, parents say, there was a migration of students from west-side schools into east-side schools at the beginning of the 2012 school year. According to the Mello-Roos parents, this influx caused traffic problems, classroom overcrowding, delays in students getting textbooks, and difficulty for students getting through long lunch lines.

Parents claim that many of the students coming to the east-side schools are escaping low-achieving schools on the west side.

At the Otay Ranch mall meeting, parent Jeff Jackson asked, “Why am I paying for someone else’s poor performance? If Imperial Beach [west side] schools are having problems, don’t take it out on my kid’s education.”

Instead of attending the meeting, Brand posted a video on the district website explaining the open-boundaries program and the way the district spends the Mello-Roos money.

Brand explains the district’s use of Mello-Roos funds in this way: “Let’s say I’m a student at Eastlake, and I apply and go to the program at Mar Vista High School. The money from the Mello-Roos area that I come from actually can follow me to that school. So, district-wide, approximately 25 percent of our students are in Mello-Roos attendance areas and 25 percent of the building can be charged as a result of that. At Mar Vista High School, if we wanted to build a fence, for instance, we could charge approximately 25 percent, or the number of students who are at Mar Vista High from a Mello-Roos district, for the cost of that fence and its installation.”

Parents think the message equivocates. Is Brand saying he can spend 25 percent of the Mello-Roos funds anywhere in the district, or is he saying the school district will spend on a school only the percentage of Mello-Roos money proportionate to the Mello-Roos students who attend that school?

Luis and Veronica Cruz, parents of Eastlake High students, attended the Otay Ranch mall meeting. They said the overcrowding was so bad at their son’s school that he had to miss lunch for four days while he stood in line to sign up for the PSAT test.

They also stated that their daughter’s biology/forensics teacher’s budget for the year was only $47. They told me the teacher was reduced to using road kill for assignments. In a follow-up interview, their daughter told me the teacher is currently using a road-kill specimen to demonstrate how bodies decompose.

Veronica Cruz said the conditions at the school have begun to remind her of when she went to school in Tijuana. She said you had to bring the school’s supplies — bleach, toilet paper, everything.

She said she and her husband have worked hard to move to a good location so their kids can have a good education.

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This is a very good introduction into the world of Mello-Roos.

For the next lesson, we would need Sweetwater to open their books and tell us exactly what they have been doing with Mello-Roos funds for the past 20 years--because there have been all sorts of indications that all is not well with Sweetwater finances.

Large sub-topic: that Mello-Roos funds have been used for payroll. This first emerged in 2008, I believe--it was the topic of an editorial in the Eastlake High School newspaper at that time. Obviously, while that wasn't an approved application of funds, the attempts to correct the situation fell on deaf ears.

Clear evidence of the lack of respect for students, teachers, parents and taxpayers here in Sweetwater. What can we do about it?

I would like to make a request that there be a formal, forensic audit of Sweetwater that would have authority to research as far back as is necessary.

If that were to be done, other problems would appear, such as Categorical funds being applied wrongly.

The history of Sweetwater is not pretty, but if we face up to it, and get some good people working on it, things can get better.

Oh--and for a big change, get a Superintendent who is capable instead of corrupt, and a Board of Trustees in whom we can have trust.

when the numbers did not add up regarding the amount of mello roos monies being used for ipads dr. brand's response was this "we have students from the east side who have chosen to transfer to the west side, those mello roos dollars follow them"........ you know i was born of a day but it was NOT yesterday. i would, and i am sure YOU would like to see the real numbers on that stretch. something is telling me that the numbers of east side students attending west side schools pales in comparison to the number of west side kids that are now attending east side schools.

now i live on the west side, i believe that our schools are equal to the east side schools. my children attended west side schools and they have turned out fine. both are college graduates and in the teaching field. i believe the west side teachers are as good as east side teachers. having said that, i would be pretty torked off if i lived on the east side and was paying mello roos yet was seeing my tax dollars being spent elsewhere.

back in march there was a board meeting held at sweetwater high school, when challenged about the way he was overseeing our tax dollars - dr brand said "you stopped us from borrowing from prop o and so we are now having to borrow from the mello roos to keep the district running and make payroll" (paraphrase, but an entire gym heard him)

the leadership of brand is in question. how many of your mello roos dollars are going to be spent on brands new brain child of a 2nd charter school - now this one will be on the east side - so yes folks something tells me he is going to say "it is ok to do so". the first charter school on L street that offers free day care, ipads - guess where the charter school got the money? well, we, the suhsd are paying for it. now wouldn't you think that brand would be focusing on 7-12?

why do we have so many consultants? we are one of the largest school districts in the nation - and the best we deserve under brand are consultants?????????????

funds for education? remember that slick move by brand? he brought in a consultant for that too - mike ellis, a convicted felon, and good friend of brand. convicted of manufacturing meth. fortunately the taxpaying community pushed back and the committee was disbanded.

asb funds - how many of you are aware that 5% of each and every penny your children raise goes back to the district? so on top of your taxes paying for salaries, etc. they are now expecting our children via all of you to pay as well.

why were the school boundaries taken down by brand WITHOUT board approval? heck, brand does not care, he does not even live in our community so why would he care about the impact of such a poor decision. it is your children who are packed into classrooms like sardines thanks to this ill conceived idea

hopefully a board member who is focused on fiscal responsibility will step up and speak out for change - i am hearing many are looking to mccann. i would love for mccann to prove me wrong, i would love for cartmill to prove me wrong as well. these two gentlemen have long prided themselves as persons who are vested in their communities, that listened - they can no longer ignore the pleas of their neighbors - their neighbors want a new direction. they see brand as an extension of 'the gandara'.

but what has unveiled the real dr. brand is the fact that he resigned effective 8-31-12 even though he had a contract with the district until 12-31-12. dr. brand abandoned our children, will mccann and cartmill stand for that? monday night we will see - mondays votes wlll show their neighbors what they place value in - their neighbors children or themselves.

Mr. John McCann PLEASE, prove me wrong.

Sorry,anniej McCann is a self serving politician just like Cartmill. McCann claims he got rid of Gandara,not true as we all know. He seeks credit for all the positive decisions after the fact. Arlie Mcann and Cartmill vote as a block most of the time Quinones is with them. Watch and see at Mondays board mtg. They will vote Brand in 4:1. The only time mCCann voted out of the block was when he didn't vote for the Mello-Roos increase. He lives in Eastlake is why. He doesn't care otherwise.Look he hasn't helped his community why didn't he say no to open boundaries this effected his entir community. He didn't even insist on a board vote to attempt to fix the matter. Please do not hold your breath, he doesn't care,watch on Mon. Brand will get a big contract and McCann vote for it.

I hope you are wrong.

I hope that Quinones will figure out that she should do the right thing.

I hope that Ricasa wakes up. I hope that Cartmill begins to see what selling out the community is doing. I hope that McCann realizes that his only hope (if he wants any sort of a career in this part of the country) is to respond to the community's wishes. I hope Bertha Lopez will finally be treated with respect by the other members of the board, who ought to be ashamed of themselves for reasons to numerous to list.

Eastlaker: i too hope erupting is wrong, but i am called the eternal optimist by those who know me. i just have to believe that mccann and cartmill will draw a line in the sand after reading the interviews brand gave to the ut and star news, which basically made them out to be obstructionists to the community i.e. they kept the fact that he had resigned and they failed to advise us of the real reason for the special board meeting. surely mccann and cartmill realize the time for change is now, surely they want to be part of that process.

anniej... Unfortunately, yours is a pipe dream. You speak truth when you say John McCann brought us Brand, and everyone knows Juim brought us Gandara. For those sins both MUST GO!

Ok gang be prepared, word on the street is that Ed Brand is making outrageous contract demands. He will be asking for a large raise, much more than he makes now, in addition to all the supplemental stuff that you can imagine. He does not care about students, teachers, staff, parents, taxpayers or anyone else in our community. I just cant fathom why Ricasa, Cartmill and McCann cant see this. Many people are suffering in our community with job losses, foreclosures, cuts in services at the district, teachers making contract concessions, etc., yet this fatcat has the audicity to ask for more, more, and more! Reminds me of the robber barons of the industrial age!! Incredible!!!

It has occurred to me that Ed Brand might actually be operating under the disadvantage of a personality disorder, as his perceptions and demands are so incredibly "out there".( I could try and make a joke about this, except I'm not really joking). Pretty sure Sweetwater needs to cut its losses ASAP when it comes to Brand.

Why doesn't the board ever ask him to back up any of his ideas or claims with data? Why can't we find out the results of the Compact for Success (his big claim to fame), in terms of students accepted, students continuing, students graduating, how many years it takes for graduation, majors selected, etc.? We need feedback, and I think the students should know what the track record is so they can be realistically prepared. Is it a successful program, or over-hyped verbiage?

A true educator would be all over this kind of thing. A true educator would share progress or setbacks and be open about tweaking the program to make it better. A true educator wouldn't be bleeding a district dry for himself while there are still dozens of teachers still pink slipped and out of work.

A true educator would speak out, tell the truth, open the books, encourage the students, teachers and staff and aim for real leadership.

Ed Brand does none of these things. He schemes, juggles the books, lies, disappears for a few days, gives interviews to newspapers while not speaking directly to the community.

If the board of Trustees can't figure out that Ed Brand needs to go, there is no hope for the board of Trustees.

As Mr. Brickley said, Ed has already hit the trifecta of "no confidence" votes; the board needs to pay attention.

bvagency: if what you say is true, we need to be prepared. when brand was here before the district allegedly paid for a leased car, that he took with him when he left. some say the district continued to pay the lease even after he was gone. let us not forget brand said he would work the month of september for free - he made that statement to honor his promise that if the employees of our district agreed to cuts so would he - instead what did he do? he resigned 8-31 - abandoned the students and taxpayers. this community will simply NOT TOLERATE a- brand being offered a contract or b- a rich contract.

there is more to the relationship than superintendent and certain board members - working as professionals dealing with school business. there is more to the relationship than board member and 'some' administrators (allegedly, in the past some administrators have interacted with a certain board member outside of the district). hopefully no current administrators.

for the record what i speak has nothing to do with mccann. stay tuned.

it is time for brand to go - as he so eloquently put it time for him to walk off into the sunset.

for the record it also has NOTHING to do with any kind of interpersonal relationships.

The BOARD of trustees needs to be voted out. Many of them have felony corruption indictments against them to boot.

Ya know, the people who live there (on the 'East Side'), and bought those homes, did not HAVE to move there. That was a decision made by them, and I'm sure that Mello-Roos was clearly disclosed during the escrow process. If they are not happy with the outcome, they can move again. I do not defend developers, and I do not defend the school district. I DO believe in personal responsibility and owning ones decisions. I am a 50 year resident of Chula Vista, long before 805 was ever constructed. That 'physical barrier' was only the beginning of the division that currently exists in our town. There is a lot of emotion swirling around this issue, and if it continues in this tone, we will create our very own "West Side Story"! Be careful what you ask for, because you will get it.

So you are saying because we bought homes there, we need to shut up when the school district raids our funds? For NON-COMMUNITY FACILITIES DISTRICT projects?

tpjaia: you know you are exactly what this community does NOT NEED. we do not need a divide of any kind. what we need to do is stand up ALL OF US, against the hiring of brand as permanent superintendent and speak up to bring about change by driving the alleged corruption out of our community.

i TOO am a 50+ year resident of Chula Vista , long before 805 was ever constructed. there is no division, there is no physical barrier - funny i have never noticed a barbed wire fence around the east side. i drive over there and shop, eat, visit friends - i am not asked to prove i live there. while i do not mean to speak for them i will say they CHOSE to move there and PAY EXTRA, so why shouldn't they get what they are paying for? there is no emotion swirling around this issue - the emotion that is swirling is around what the board will do with their votes on monday night, will they support the will of the taxpayers or will they cave to the will of greedy brand. will they help to bring about the positive change that is needed.

for the record how many city council meetings have you been to? how many board meeting have you been to? how much research have you done on the issues? what have you done to promote positive change? hopefully you are not one of those who simply bangs away on the computer keyboard yet does nothing. while we all have freedom of speech along with that comes the responsibility to show up, stand up, and speak up - this isn't something you can simply phone in.

Tpjaia, I'm sure the homeowners knew about the Mello-Roos. That's not the issue.

The issue is that Mello-Roos CFD's are intended to get new schools built in new subdivisions. Not intended to be an indefinite cash cow for the school districts slush funds. Also, there is no reason to raise the tax every year as the vast majority of required facilities in those CFD'S have already been completed.

The Mello-Roos is being greatly abused by both Sweetwater Union AND Chula Vista Elementary school district. Those board members ate on notice.

Exactly--if the title of your position is Trustee, you are in your position to maintain the public's trust.

Maintaining the public's trust would have to include playing by the rules, being honest in your bookkeeping and not playing a shell game with the accounts.

This includes Mello-Roos, it includes all the "categorical" funds that have been raided (as Ed Brand thinks everything is a free-for-all, all there as his private candy store), as well as essentially stealing ASB funds from the school children (for what--for Brand's $20,000/mo. fee as a consultant?).

Some "trustees".

Once begun, the pattern of "no rules" when it comes to financial matters essentially means that we in Sweetwater can be robbed blind. Are we being robbed blind? Maybe--because we aren't allowed to know what is going on with the financials.

A recent news report mentioned that the company handling Sweetwater's bonds is in trouble for mishandling funds. Is anyone surprised? Can we please get the full story of who is in charge, what they are doing and how much is being stolen?

It isn't east side versus west side. It is the community versus Ed "the Non-Educator" Brand and the majority Board of untrustworthy Trustees.

The community demands clarity, transparency and honesty when it comes to all the accounts. We also demand that unless the Board of Trustees step up, do their homework and work for the schools and the community, it is time for them to be gone.

And it is long past time for Ed Brand to be gone.

Won't Back Down - true life story made into a movie. the promo's should do much to help turn the taxpayers out in force.

is this community ready to stand up for what is right? is it asking too much for a school district to handle our tax dollars in a fiscally responsible manner which would result in a quality education for all 7-12 grades? is it asking too much for our school board to provide us with a superintendent who is focused on district business solely?

should our superintendent and a member of the board be involved in an outside business venture(s) together?

should a board member and administrators be involved in outside business venture(s) together?

there is a great deal riding on the upcoming vote that the board will take monday night.................. a great deal.

How come no one sees how bad of a teachers union sea is? Curious.

I'm not defending Brand of any of this other drama either.

How bad? Care to put flesh on those dried bones. Or, are they just some dried twigs that look like bones?

greatness83: while they may not be perfect i would ask one to look at which candidates the unions are backing. which union, if any, is backing pearl quinones???????????

i rest my case..............................................................

I would recommend everyone really interested in the Mello-Roos topic take a look at Hanono's thesis. It's about 100 pages long and focuses on Chula Vista. For resources he used the archives of the Union Tribune and Star News, County Assessor's Office and interviews with former city administrators and residents.

I think there are short term and long term questions that need to be answered for people who live in Mello-Roos areas and this would be a resource.

Thanks, Susan.

I wonder if anyone in Mayor Cox's office or anyone on the Chula Vista City Council has an opinion on any of this.

I am sure no one wants to go on record, but it would certainly be encouraging to hear that someone in authority is in favor of getting things cleaned up and straightened out.

THE CONTRACT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! folks, it is going to be all about THE CONTRACT.

board docs will be up anywhere from 5:00pm to 6:01pm then we, the TAXPAYERS will get to see the contract that our board members quionones, mccann, cartmill and ricasa will be offering brand - can't wait to see it - let us keep ever present on our mind WE ARE BROKE ACCORDING TO BRAND -

the contact will become a mute issue if the board chooses to not offer brand a job. the whole community will be watching to see what they do.

my hopes are that those who say they know mccann are right and that john mccann will lead the board is a NO vote.


Time for Ed "Bad News" Brand to clear out. I certainly hope the Board of Trustees can get that straight.

Eastlaker, unfortunately Mayor Cox has no authority over the school districts. The school board members are voted into office by the public and they are only answerable to the voters. Ed Brand is an employee if the SUHSD BOARD also. Also, the Chula Vista Elementary school district is still spending Mello Roos like crazy on non-facility items.

I know that the Mayor has no direct authority over the school districts, but would it be so hard to make a statement to the effect that, "All of us in Chula Vista are in favor of honest bookkeeping, and we would hope that those put in a position of responsibility over our childrens' education would live up to the task that has been given them".

Would that be so hard?

On occasion some "leader" has to step out and declare. Who better than the mayor of the county's second-largest city, CV? The mayor, for better or worse, has a sort of bully pulpit and could make some noise. If she doesn't do anything, it does tell the people who put her in office just what sort of leader she is not. She could call them out and "demand" they start to act responsibly, accept the consequences of their actions, stop the secrecy, and do a thorough clean-up. It would carry no legal clout, but might focus the apathetic locals on the corrupt and dysfunctional school board. It would be worth a try.

That's what I'm thinking, but apparently I am in the minority.

Eastlaker: while i have the utmost respect for Ms. Cox, i am thinking making such a statement would not serve her well. no doubt she is concerned (Ms. Cox) as this negatively impacts anyone looking to move into our area. most responsible persons will research the school districts prior to committing to that kind of expense. hard to believe two leaders could have totally different views on integrity - but then again THIS IS NOT BRANDS COMMUNITY - he lives up north, so in reality we are just a paycheck down here

Yet, speaking up for right should be considered a plus.

It is a sad world when people who campaign for leadership positions, get them and then do not step up when their voices are needed.

Mayor Cox, what do you have to say?

eastlaker: we the voters got ourselves into this mess - we need to get ourselves out of it. those board members that the community voted in, they are the ones who need to act on the voices of the community, they are the ones who need to take action, not Mayor Cox. Mayor Cox has no power in this issue - but alas no doubt she is as sick of the situation as we are.

Don't want to quibble, just want to bring up what appeared in another comment section--that someone thinks Cheryl Cox might be interested in the positoin of Superintendent after her term as mayor is over, so that there would need to be a placeholder for a couple of years. That same person mentioned Jerry Rindone. Thoughts?

"Many feel the funds should stay in the areas where they’re collected."

Huh... do they feel that way about property taxes collected in La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe, or is that "different", and it's good to move that money away from the area where it's collected... and into their own district?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

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