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Friends of Fields
Friends of Fields (“FOF”) has submitted a "Demand of Friends of Fields For Emergency Meeting Of Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (the "CBOC" ) To Verify Bond Funds Are Being Used As Intended, Appointment Of Independent Counsel And Report To The Public" letter to the CBOC and the Mill Valley School District Board, invoking the CBOC’s oversight and accountability authority over the expenditure of Measure G funds.
This is in response to the Mill Valley School District's (MVSD) proposal to build a new Mill Valley Middle School on Friends Field at the Mill Valley Community Center.
For more information on this subject, please read the recent Marin Post post, "Save Friends Field at the Mill Valley Community Center."
Among other things, the FOF letter to MVSD states,
"In view of the nature and gravity of the issues raised by this Demand, the Mill Valley School District (“School District'') should refrain from interfering with the CBOC’s ability to ensure that Measure G funds are expended only for their intended purposes. FOF hereby demands that the School District suspend all actions related to the expenditure of Measure G funds, including but not limited to, entering into contracts, approving proposals or taking any other actions involving Measure G funds for sixty days to afford the CBOC an adequate opportunity to verify that funds are being used for their intended purpose."
Below is the text of the FOF letter to the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee of the Mill Valley School District. A copy of the letter is attached.
DEMAND OF FRIENDS OF FIELDS FOR EMERGENCY MEETING OF CBOC TO VERIFY BOND FUNDS ARE BEING USED AS INTENDED, APPOINTMENT OF INDEPENDENT COUNSEL AND REPORT TO THE PUBLIC
- Friends of Fields (“FOF”) is an association consisting of three Mill Valley taxpayers (Dennis Fisco, Rich Robbins and Gary Van Acker) who have collectively volunteered thousands of hours of their time over the past 30 years to establish, preserve and maintain athletic and recreational facilities for the use and benefit of the citizens of Mill Valley. FOF spearheaded the creation, design and construction of the facilities adjacent to the Mill Valley Community Center which are now known as Friends Field. FOF has a strong interest in preventing the destruction of Friends Field and ensuring that its athletic and recreational facilities remain available for use by future generations of Mill Valley’s children and adults
- Over 30 years ago, the Mill Valley School District (“School District”) and the City of Mill Valley, which previously owned the parcel, agreed to dedicate Friends Field to public recreational use. In furtherance of this agreement, FOF and the City constructed baseball diamonds and soccer fields on Friends Field as permanent installations. These facilities have been and continue to be utilized by thousands of Mill Valley’s children and adults. Friends Field has assumed an essential role in our community as the venue for sports, entertainment and community gatherings. It hosts a stream of soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse and softball games as well as the Mill Valley Music Festival and the KIDDO Memorial Day Carnival
- In June 2022 the voters approved Measure G which authorized the school district to issue $194 million in construction bonds. The intended use of the bond funds was to make repairs and upgrades at all five of Mill Valley’s elementary schools and its one middle school. Mill Valley voters were promised that there would be vigilant oversight and accountability to guarantee that Measure G funds would be expended only for their intended purpose. Nevertheless, the School District recently decided to divert all or almost all of the $194 million in bond proceeds to pay for the construction of an entirely new middle school. The School District is preparing to enter into contracts that require it to expend bond funds in a manner other than understood and intended by the voters
- The School District is also currently considering a proposal to construct a new middle school on Friends Field. The approval of this proposal would necessarily authorize the expenditure of Measure G bond funds to implement the District’s repudiation of its dedication of Friends Field to recreational use. The funds would also be used to pay for the destruction of Friends Field and the athletic facilities installed there as permanent additions. These facilities have been maintained, repaired and upgraded by the City of Mill Valley for decades at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. The voters never remotely contemplated and did not approve the expenditure of Measure G funds in a manner that would destroy Mill Valley’s premier and largest sports and recreational venue
- The School District is legally obligated to expend bond funds for their intended use. The Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (“CBOC”) has been delegated the statutory authority and responsibility to oversee the expenditure of Measure G funds and to ensure that they are used as intended. It must undertake “vigorous efforts” to fulfill its duties to protect taxpayer funds. The imminent threat of the inappropriate expenditure of bond funds compels the scheduling of an Emergency Meeting for the CBOC to carry out its oversight duties to “verify” that Measure G funds are being used as intended
- The CBOC must retain independent counsel on an expedited basis to assist in this verification process. Responsible oversight requires that independent counsel be granted plenary authority to inquire into the facts, thoroughly analyze the relevant issues, and provide adequately informed advice to the CBOC. At the conclusion of proceedings, the CBOC should report to the public its findings, conclusions and recommendations.
HISTORY OF FRIENDS FIELD
- What is now known as Friends Field is a multi-acre, flat playing field which thousands of Mill Valley citizens have used for recreational purposes each year since at least the early 1990’s. Friends Field exists in large part because of the efforts of Dennis Fisco, Rich Robbins and Gary Van Acker (collectively FOF) as conduits for the entire Mill Valley community. FOF used their experience as developers -- and their desire to provide Mill Valley with a permanent addition to the City’s public space -- in order to convert a former landfill into a beautiful grass playing field. They designed Friends Field to be a central component of a community hub that would include the Mill Valley Community Center (completed in 2001), the nearby Mill Valley Middle School and The Redwoods. Design and creation of Friends Field took several years spanning the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and involved using a sand base specifically designed not only for drainage but also to address hydrological issues relating to the underlying landfill components and the adjacent estuary from the bay. FOF contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars as well their time to the initial design and construction of the field, and the City contributed approximately $1 million to the initial development. Since then, FOF raised funds for a substantial renovation of the field in 2019. Consistent with their long-honored shared use agreement for Friends Field, the City, FOF and other private supporters have contributed approximately $3.5 to $4.0 million for the development and maintenance of Friends Field
- Residents of Mill Valley have benefited enormously from the efforts of the City, FOF and countless others in our community who created and have maintained Friends Field.Over the last thirty years, Friends Field has lived up the dreams of those who developed it as it has been an essential venue for youth sports, entertainment and community gatherings. During school hours, Friends Field is used by Middle School students for PE and other activities. And after school and on weekends, thousands of participants in Mill Valley sports leagues, including Mill Valley Little League, Mill Valley Soccer Club, Southern Marin Lacrosse and Southern Marin Youth Football (currently collectively totalling more than 2,500 registered participants), play hundreds of games and have numerous practice sessions on Friends Field. In addition to recreational sports, Friends Field has hosted numerous community events, including the acclaimed Mill Valley Music Festival (approximately 5,000 attendees of all ages each of two days), and KIDDO’s Memorial Day Carnival (thousands of attendees each Memorial Day weekend which raises substantial funds for the vital support that KIDDO provides to students in Mill Valley schools). In short, for thirty years Friends Field has provided extraordinary benefits to Mill Valley residents. It is irreplaceable.
MEASURE G AND USE OF BOND FUNDS FOR UNINTENDED PURPOSES
- The School District administers five elementary schools and one middle school in Mill Valley. These schools are over 40 years old and in need of repairs and upgrades. After inspecting each school and conducting a needs assessment, the School District compiled a list of priority repairs and upgrades at each school
- The School District sponsored Measure G on the June 2022 ballot seeking authorization to issue $194 million in bonds to finance these repairs and upgrades. It claimed that if the voters approved Measure G the funds would be utilized to improve facilities at each of the five elementary schools as well as the middle school. The School District never indicated that the bond funds would be used solely or almost exclusively for the middle school leaving repairs and upgrades at the elementary schools unfunded. Undoubtedly, such a disclosure would have seriously undermined voter support for Measure G.
- The text of the Abbreviated Form of Bond is what voters generally read and assume to be an accurate statement of the purpose of a measure. The Abbreviated Form of Bond Measure G included in the Voter Information Guide indicated that the School District was seeking authorization to issue bonds to make upgrades and repairs “in Mill Valley elementary and middle schools.” The question presented to the voters was stated in full as follows:
"To upgrade classrooms, science labs and learning technology in Mill Valley elementary and middle schools; repair/replace leaky roofs/windows, improve accessibility for students with disabilities; add solar and replace outdated/inefficient heating, ventilation, electrical/plumbing systems; shall Mill Valley School District’s measure to issue $194,000,000 in bonds at legal interest rates be adopted, raising approximately $9,300,000 annually while bonds are outstanding averaging 2.6¢ per $100 of assessed value, with oversight, annual audits and all funds improving local schools?"
- Some voters also review the Arguments in Favor and Against a bond measure. In light of the praiseworthy and uncontroversial description of Measure G, no individual or entity submitted an Argument Against the measure. The Ballot Argument in Favor of Measure G confirms that the intended use of the bond funds was for urgent repairs and upgrades at “local schools.” It repeatedly uses the plural “schools” and never refers to limiting expenditures to a single “school.” It contains no reference to an individual school
- Understandably, voters concluded from what was presented to them that Measure G bond funds would be used to repair leaky roofs, improve access for disabled students, and replace outdated plumbing, electrical and heating in all six of the District’s schools. This intended use materially differs from the School District’s current plan to utilize all or almost all of the funds to build a brand new middle school, leaving nothing to repair or upgrade the numerous deficiencies identified at the five elementary schools
- The School District never informed voters in connection with the introduction of Measure G or during the campaign for its approval that there was any possibility bond funds would be used to support the repudiation of the School District’s agreement to dedicate Friends Field for recreational use or to finance the destruction of Friends Field and all of its facilities. Nor does Measure G itself or the ballot Argument in Favor of it identify or reference any such use of bond funds. The slightest suggestion that the bond funds would be used for either of these purposes would have sparked widespread community outrage and led to the resounding defeat of Measure G. The absence of any Argument Against Measure G is telling evidence that the voters understood the bond funds would not be used for these purposes
- All of the available evidence conclusively demonstrates that the intended use of Measure G bond funds was for repairs and upgrades at all six schools. It did not include (a) the expenditure of all or almost all of the funds at a single school; (b) the expenditure of funds to support the School District’s repudiation of its agreement to dedicate Friends Field for recreational use; or (c) the expenditure of funds to destroy Friends Field. All such uses are impermissible
- At a public meeting on February 1, 2024, School District board members admitted that the District intends to use all or almost all of the Measure G bond funds to build a new middle school and will not use Measure G funds to make repairs and upgrades at any of the five elementary schools. This leaves the children attending the five elementary schools sitting in facilities with leaky roofs, inefficient heating, unrepaired electrical and plumbing problems and inadequate access for disabled students
- On February 1, 2024, the School District decided to consider building the new middle school on Friends Field. In doing so, the School District repudiated its agreement to dedicate Friends Field for recreational use and opened the door to the wholesale destruction of Friends Field. The expenditure of bond funds for either purpose would be far beyond their intended use
- At the February 1, 2024 meeting, School District board members and the District’s consultants attempted to address concerns about the construction of the middle school on Friends Field by suggesting that approximately $7 million of the Measure G bond funds would be used to create a new recreational field where the middle school is currently located (after it is demolished). This suggested means of addressing the loss of Friends Field is illusory for several reasons. First, as board members admitted at the February 1 meeting, the proposed renovation/construction of the middle school would likely exhaust all of the Measure G funds, leaving no funds to pay for identified priority projects at the five Mill Valley elementary schools. It is inconceivable that the School District would use millions of dollars from Measure G to construct an athletic field when it lacks funds to carry out priority projects at the elementary schools. Second, even if the District could use Measure G funds to build a new athletic field on the current middle school site, developing a flat recreational field on the rolling middle school site would be extraordinarily expensive if not impossible. Third, even if a field could be constructed on this location, the rendering (Proposal C) makes clear that the field would be substantially smaller than Friends Field, could accommodate only two small baseball diamonds and would not be large enough nor suitable to replace the configurations of multiple soccer, football and lacrosse fields for those sports leagues that have been major users of Friends Field. And fourth, a recreational field at the current middle school site would lose the symmetry and connection to the Community Center that have made Friends Field such an incredibly important part of Mill Valley. Thus, the reality of the proposal to build a new middle school on Friends Field, if carried out, is that Friends Field will be gone and no replacement field provided.
THE CBOC MUST SET AN EMERGENCY MEETING TO VERITY THAT BOND FUNDS ARE BEING USED AS INTENDED, RETAIN INDEPENDENT COUNSEL AND REPORT TO THE PUBLIC
- Until 2000, measures authorizing the issuance of bonds for school construction required two-thirds voter approval. The Smaller Classes, Safer Schools and Financial Accountability Act (“Act”) lowered the voter approval rate to 55%. As additional safeguards for the taxpayers, once the lower threshold was in place, the Act imposed stringent requirements on school districts to ensure public oversight and accountability relating to the expenditure of bond funds. The Act mandated the creation of CBOCs for every school bond measure and vested the CBOCs with comprehensive oversight authority and responsibilities
- The CBOCs act as independent watchdogs of school districts to protect the public’s interests and prevent waste of taxpayer funds. The Legislature intended for the CBOCs to undertake “[v]igorous efforts” to ensure that expenditures “are in strict conformity with the law.” Education Code §15264(a). In performance of their duties, CBOC members are to “promptly alert the public to any waste or improper expenditure” of bond funds. Id. §15264(c). An express goal of the Legislature is that “unauthorized expenditures” of bond funds be “vigorously investigated, prosecuted, and that the courts act swiftly to restrain any improper expenditures.” Id. §15264(d)
- The School District established this CBOC to oversee the expenditures of Measure G funds. The core duties of the CBOC are to “actively review and report on the proper expenditure of the taxpayers’ money for school construction” and “to verify that the funds are being spent only for authorized purposes.” Education Code §15278(b)
- The CBOC can fulfill its statutory responsibilities here only by scheduling an Emergency Meeting to consider the material issues raised herein and to verify Measure G funds are being used as intended, appointing independent counsel on an expedited basis and reporting to the public on the CBOC’s findings, conclusions and recommendations
- The CBOC cannot seek or obtain any legal advice or services from the School District’s counsel in this matter. The attorneys who represent the School District owe duties to the District as their client that create disqualifying conflicts of interest. Instead, the CBOC must retain independent counsel at the expense of the District
- In order to satisfy the requirements that the CBOC engage in “vigorous efforts” to ensure expenditures “are in strict conformity with the law” and to “verify that the funds are being spent only for authorized purposes,” the CBOC’s verification process must be thorough. The exercise of responsible oversight requires that the CBOC’s counsel be granted plenary authority to inquire into the facts, analyze the relevant issues and provide adequately informed advice to the CBOC.
- The School District has proposed spending $194 million in bond funds in ways that were never intended, contemplated or approved by the voters, including enabling the wholesale destruction of beloved Friends Field. The CBOC is the body entrusted with the responsibility of providing the promised oversight and accountability for the expenditure of Measure G bond funds. It must intervene on an expedited basis to protect the public, to “verify that the funds are being spent only for authorized purposes” and to forestall a financial misadventure of monumental proportions
- For the reasons stated above, the CBOC should set an Emergency Meeting to verify Measure G funds are being used as intended, appoint independent counsel and report to the public.
s/Mark A. Chavez - Mark A. Chavez
s/Christopher C. Kearney - Christopher C. KearneyDated: February 5, 2024