Controversy doomed Measure L
South Lake Tahoe City Councilman John Upton knew Measure L was in trouble last month.
Upton, who oversaw the successful bond measure to provide recreation facilities to South Lake Tahoe in September 2000, believed the rise of opposition groups defeated Measure L weeks before Tuesday’s election.
“With any controversy or organized opposition it’s almost an impossibility,” Upton said. “Once you see as much controversy that arose over the issue it was probably a fairly predictable outcome.”
The controversy – whether it was allegations of fiscal mismanagement by Lake Tahoe Unified School District, taxation without representation or a poorly written tax proposal – ignited and fueled the flame of opposition groups.
“I’ve never seen so much controversy as long as I’ve been around,” Upton said.
Steve Abrams, a political science teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College, said the timing of the election contributed to the measure’s defeat. He cited a poor economy, rising gas prices and tax day two days before the election as important factors besides the organization of the opposition groups.
“Right now the timing was incredibly horrid,” Abrams said. “I also have to say that a part of this, unfortunately, is kind of a negative (perception) that people have about public education in general.”
Abrams also believed proponents should have contacted a variety of constituents, including renters and LTCC students.
“You don’t need to organize a campaign by convincing the believers,” he said. Abrams was contacted three times by supporters and said he told the first caller he was voting for the measure.
Voter Sherill Jeter said the district had the foresight with continuous years of declining enrollment to make adjustments. He also believed the measure was poorly written and taxed people who didn’t reside in the district.
“I thought it was an effort to stop throwing money at every problem that arises and take some responsibility,” he said.
John Stephens, who also works at the college as director of business services, said supporters should have contacted the opponents to iron out differences.
“They probably felt they weren’t addressed,” Stephens said.
Most of the blame for the defeat went to the two opposition groups which represented the time-share industry. The Lake Tahoe Taxpayers Against Measure L had the most clout and money and used a Sacramento lobbyist group that claims it made Ronald Reagan into a successful politician.
The group was sponsored by the American Resort Development Association, which had two Marriott representatives on its board of directors.
“ARDA used their slick (public relations) firms to unscrupulously misrepresent the purpose of Measure L and continue to defame the district by accusing them of improperly using district resources,” Jim Weinberg said. “I think they would do and say anything to protect their bottom line and that’s what they did.”
Even though the measure needed two yes votes for every no vote, most praised the high voter turnout. Out of 13,457 registered voters in the school district, 6,316 people cast ballots, or a 47 percent turnout.
William Schultz, the county’s recorder-clerk and elections official, expected a 40 percent turnout based on the interest and media coverage.
“For a special election for a school district it was a very good turnout,” Schultz said. “We were really happy about the turnout from an elections viewpoint.”
Schultz said 305 absentee ballots had yet to be counted but will be tabulated today. The number would not affect the election results.
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org.