Residents from two sides of the sprawling Capistrano Unified School District came before the school board Wednesday to complain about how their tax money is being spent.
Concerns from both were put off until the next meeting.
Even though the topic of taxes and finances may sound dry, the board meeting turned into a regular melodrama, with maybe a 100 people booing and cheering from the audience.
At the center of both complaints is special tax money the district collects from landowners in particular developments, called Mello-Roos districts, or community facility districts.
Mello-Roos districts saddle the cost of roads, utilities and schools for new housing projects on their future homeowners. Each district is created and negotiated separately with the school district and other public agencies based on needs, the number of units and market forces.
In one case Wednesday, Talega residents argued that they should have access to some savings the district recently realized with a refinancing of the bonds used to pay for Talega schools. In August, the trustees decided they would hold on to the windfall, $17 million, so it can be spent repairing dilapidated San Clemente High School.
Talega residents had two main points:
- It’s only fair to pass on the savings to the taxpayers, especially because the board did that very thing for Las Flores taxpayers at the same meeting it clung to the Talega money.
- If the district won’t let go of the money, it should be at least be spent in Talega and not on repairs at the high school, especially because Mello-Roos money is supposed to be spent on new facilities, not deferred maintenance.
Meanwhile, residents from Mission Viejo said their Mello-Roos dollars have already been misspent, and they asked that the board retire the bonds early so that they can stop paying the tax.
In near tears, mom Barbara Casserly said district officials have admitted to her they mislead Mission Viejo taxpayers about the use of their tax dollars, which were mostly spent in Aliso Viejo. The Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo taxpayers are united in one community facilities district, called 87-1, the oldest such district in CUSD.
“They had admitted they lied about the use of funds. This Mello-Roos district has been misused. We’ve been lied to for years,” she said. “A generation of students in Mission Viejo had horrible conditions because students in Aliso Viejo got new schools. … It’s time for it to stop.”
Trustee Ellen Addonizio acknowledged that 87-1 money was spent outside its very specified purposes, for example, at Capistrano Valley High School, which is not one of the named facilities in the district’s foundation documents.
Trustee Jim Reardon called it immoral to not end the tax district when there’s more than enough money to pay the bonds.
“I can’t morally justify taking $16 million from the people of Mission Viejo,” he said. “This is a grabby effort to keep a windfall, and I think it’s immoral.”
The audience cheered.
But some trustees weren’t receptive to either community’s outcry.
“It’s not a money grab. It’s making sure our students have cash to be successful,” said Trustee Lynn Hatton. “To call it immoral is a slap in the face to why you became a trustee.”
The audience booed.
But with only six trustees present (Anna Bryson was absent), the Mission Viejo-Aliso Viejo district was moved to the next meeting, when what seemed like an inevitable tie would not be possible if all seven trustees show.
The trustees also agreed to reconsider in January giving back Talega landowners the savings from the recent refinancing.
Get more details about the Talega protest.
Get more details about the Mission Viejo residents’ efforts.