Thursday, April 25, 2013

Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego USD (Cal. Ct. App. - April 25, 2013)

This is a staggering devotion of resources -- really quite shocking -- devoted to fighting about whether Hoover High School (here in San Diego) gets to put up some lights for its football field.

It's very plausible that Proposition S, which was approved by the voters in 2008 and authorized up to $2.1 billion dollars of school bonds, didn't expressly authorize this particular project at Hoover.  The trial court held otherwise, but the Court of Appeal says that the "field lighting" part of the referendum referred to something different than the particular projects approved for Hoover.  The Court of Appeal may well be right.  (That said, there's no way the vote would have been different had the project been expressly approved.  But we don't apply harmless error analyses to elections.  We only do that in civil and criminal adjudications.)

So the petitioner, which is a nonprofit organization ostensibly concerned about government spending, gets some relief.

But is the candle really worth the wick?

It's quite possible -- perhaps even likely -- that the amount of money spent by the taxpayers on this litigation far exceeds the amount that would have been spent on the two light stands.  The trial judge (and support staff) took a lot of time, the Court of Appeal took a lot of time, and the school district hired at least three outside lawyers -- plus whatever resources were devoted at the trial court level -- to defend the measure.  The Court of Appeal's opinion is 73 pages long.  That's a big hint that the amount of money spent on this thing was far from insubstantial.

That result is also far from surprising.  Given that it's a close case, it's not like the petitioners could reasonably have expected the school district to just concede.  Especially since they won in the trial court.  So a fight was fully expected.

The net result is a "win" for petitioners.  At least if you count as a "win" a result that will likely actually increase taxes in San Diego.  With no material benefit other than a 72-page opinion by the Court of Appeal that's completely fact-specific and of no assistance in any other case.

Win a battle, lose the war.

Maybe petitioners should change the name of their group to "Taxpayers for Less Spending on Schools But Higher Taxes So We Can Pay Lawyers."