People will say, “I’m from Eastlake,” as opposed to, “I’m from Chula Vista.”
  • People will say, “I’m from Eastlake,” as opposed to, “I’m from Chula Vista.”
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

People living on the west side of Chula Vista face distinct problems from those living on the Mello-Roos side of the city. Those who see the glass as half-empty see the western part of the city as old and impoverished, with sparse, dry-grass parks and a main street past its prime.

Glass-half-full people see the west side’s larger lots, no Mello-Roos fees, a bayfront on the verge of development, a lavish police station and city hall, a quicker commute, and cooling bay breezes.

But no matter what’s in your glass, you see a stark difference when you drive from the east side of Chula Vista to the west.

In his thesis “California Dreamin,’” native Chula Vistan and Stanford University student Gerald Hanono argues that the Mello-Roos act “created private tax districts that would be exploited by developers as they sought to minimize the risk of real estate development…. Most importantly, Mello-Roos funded the construction of ‘public’ infrastructure in these new areas, which only added to a city’s maintenance burden.”

Assistant city manager Gary Halbert says Mello-Roos are used to pay for things that are beyond the normal services — such as maintaining special landscaping.

Assistant city manager Gary Halbert says Mello-Roos are used to pay for things that are beyond the normal services — such as maintaining special landscaping.

Is a Mello-Roos area then an island, sufficient unto itself? Chula Vista assistant city manager Gary Halbert confirmed in an August 30 interview that the initial cost of infrastructure in the eastern portion of the city was paid for with Mello-Roos bonds. When asked if the Mello-Roos taxes pay for the maintenance of the infrastructure — such as maintenance for roads — Halbert stated that the taxes from the whole city are used to maintain the basic infrastructure. Mello-Roos funds, however, do pay for things that are beyond the normal services — such as maintaining special landscaping.

Most Chula Vistans will agree that with the establishment of Mello-Roos districts predominantly on the east side, the division between east and west Chula Vista deepened. In “California Dreamin,’” Hanono argued: “Although certain sections of the community celebrate them, Chula Vista’s master-planned projects, and the developers who planned and built them, have contributed to expanding inequality in the city and have led to the consolidation of poverty in the area west of I-805.”

The sense of being one city with a common future has broken down. Hanono points out in his thesis that Chula Vista communities often refer to themselves by their Mello-Roos development names. People will say, “I’m from Eastlake” as opposed to “I’m from Chula Vista.”

But Eastlake is not a city. It is a subdivision inside Chula Vista, and city hall and the police department for the Mello-Roos developments are located on the west side of the city.

In Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag writes about the breakdown of community identity in California following the Mello-Roos act.

In Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag writes about the breakdown of community identity in California following the Mello-Roos act.

In Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag writes about the breakdown of community identity in California following the Mello-Roos act: “Once your city requires you to pay what is, in effect, an entry fee for schools, roads or the view, you’re not likely to think of your community and its facilities in the same generous spirited way that people used to. A public park becomes one bought and paid for by you and your neighbors.”

Evidence of deep separation is reflected in the school districts. Chula Vista Elementary School District will be asking voters to say yes to a bond proposition in November. As bonds go, Proposition E is a modest general obligation bond. It asks the west-side voters for $90 million to improve 31 out of 44 elementary schools in Chula Vista. The schools for the most part were built between 1938 and 1975.

The bond doesn’t ask to rebuild schools, put in new playgrounds, or overhaul cafeterias; it just asks to make classrooms wireless and to repair and/or replace things such as heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning for 31 of the oldest schools in the district.

But the remarkable thing about this bond is it excludes the Mello-Roos district voters and the 13 schools built with Mello-Roos money. Only the voters from district one, which is on the west side, will be asked to approve this bond.

One west-side politician worries about the precedent this proposition is setting.

Willard “Doc” Howard, who is running for the Chula Vista Elementary School District board in November, says he has reservations about the bond’s purpose. He thoroughly agrees that west-side schools need attention, “But they need something more than wiring that will serve a technological program for maybe 15 years before there is another technological shift. I believe some of these schools are so old, they simply need to be rebuilt.”

But Howard is even more concerned about the fact that for the first time only a portion of the city is being asked to vote on a bond. “My guess is the Mello-Roos residents are being excluded to ensure that the bond will pass, but we’re setting up for an unhealthy dynamic — a tug-of-war between the two sides. What happens when the schools on the east side age 15 years down the line — and the Mello-Roos bonds are paid off? The west side is going to say, ‘You didn’t vote for, or pay for, our school bond, so why should we vote for yours?’”

I spoke with two representatives of the Chula Vista Elementary School District on August 29: Anthony Millican, communications officer, and Oscar Esquivel, executive director of fiscal services.

Millican said he was sensitive to the fact that the schools on the west side are not on a par with the schools on the east side. He said, “In the best possible world, we would be able to create a level playing field.” But for now, Millican points out that the district at least wants to offer the students the same technological benefits — wireless classrooms — so they can move forward into the 21st Century.

Millican also points to west-side schools like Rosebank Elementary that still have single-pane, wood-frame windows. “We’re not talking about solar power, we’re talking about something as basic as weather-proofing.”

Millican believes Proposition E has a good chance of passing because of something he calls “the trust factor.” Chula Vista Elementary has a track record of being fiscally responsible, and Millican points proudly to the fact that test scores all across the district continue to rise. In August, the district announced that, based on the results of California standardized tests, students in the district were well ahead of proficiency achievement scores for the county and state.

One of the things that figures into the district’s trust factor is the husbandry of Mello-Roos funds. Oscar Esquivel, the district’s executive director of fiscal services, said unequivocally in the August 29 conversation that Chula Vista Elementary only spends Mello-Roos funds in Mello-Roos facilities districts. Moreover, in response to a follow-up email question, both Millican and Esquivel averred, “Our District does not transfer funds from the Mello-Roos pot to help meet cash obligations.”

This is in contradistinction to Sweetwater Union High School District. At a recent meeting, former Sweetwater chief financial officer Dianne Russo told the assembled group that the district had borrowed $67 million from Mello-Roos monies to make payroll.

One irony about Chula Vista’s great divide is that many of the east-side interviewees commented that their parents or grandparents live on the west side. Will that be the tie that binds?

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Visduh Sept. 19, 2012 @ 12:18 p.m.

Very, very interesting! The first I'd heard of this sort of thing. My notion of Mello-Roos was to keep the cost of new homes lower and make them more accessible, and then pay for the impact over time. I'd also guess that few voters know that they divide cities and school districts into sub-districts with different financing sources. And as this story describes it, the fees and the bonds make a real mess of things. Mello-Roos never seemed to be a good idea, and now that we know how it works we know it was not a good idea. For me, I'll studiously avoid either home owners associations or Mello-Roos and will recommend to anyone who wants to listen to do the same. Both create a can of worms that lasts and lasts and lasts.


Jmbrickley Sept. 19, 2012 @ 2:22 p.m.

Visduh... you are right about keeping the cost of the home down to help sell it. That was exactly what my wife and I were told when we moved into Eastlake in 1986. One must remember, the economy was just starting a recovery in 1985. For several years prior to that, home sales were down and by keeping the cost of new homes in the new developement in east CV, the turn out to buy was the beginning of the "East Side." People were camping out to get on the waiting list.

We were offered a choice as part of our escrow; pay the mello-Roos over time, or pay a lump sum at closing. Most chose to pay over time because the extra $10,000-$15,000 could make or break one from qualifing for the loan.

Most of the families I shared the waiting list with were people in about the same financial situation as was my wife and I; younger with children, many first time buyers, not as many investors. For the first ten years or so, Eastlake was sleepy, quiet, knitted community. We all shared a common burden, Mello-Roos, but had the promised rewards of the increased taxes. Our children ALL went to the same school. We had new schools, new roads, other new infrastructure, and so on. The cost of the newer homes were higher, but held a better resale value over the long haul.

To find out that Ed Brand is raiding this pool of money to spend elsewhere in the district is not only shameful, dishonest, and flat out WRONG, it is also a slap in the face of those homeowners who bought homes in a Mello-Roos area thinking their hard-earned money was going to stay in their area. Ed Brand has it wrong. He believes that if 25% of the district is in a Mello-Roos district, the he can spend 25% of the Mello-Roos monies as he sees fit somewhere else. He believes he can use Mello-Roos money to pay 25% of the cost of a chain link fence at Mar Vista. WRONG!!!!


Visduh Sept. 19, 2012 @ 2:41 p.m.

The laws regarding the use of Mello-Roos funds are either being ignored or are so vague as to allow radically different interpretations of them. See, I thought they were used to pay off bonds that were floated to put in the streets, water lines, sewers, fire stations, schools, etc. Now it is obvious that they were used for more than that, and have not been properly accounted either.


Jmbrickley Sept. 21, 2012 @ 10:50 a.m.

The law is not vague. The money is to be spent inside the Community Facilities District (Mello-Roos). The money Brand is raiding from the Fund now, is no longer available to be used to build new school infrastructure in the future. If Eastlake High School needs a site improvement? Sorry, no money. If Otay Ranch HS needs new construction for anything? Sorry, no money. Olympian HS... same thing. SYHS... SOL.

Until this money is repaid (decades from now????), it is lost for the use it was intended for. Brand is playing fast and loose with the money so his friends... err, consultants can make money off the school district. Brand is all about taking care of his friends. Just ask Pearl, Arlie, Jim and John if you don't believe me.


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 19, 2012 @ 3:12 p.m.

Is that a pic from the Coronado Cays????


Jmbrickley Sept. 19, 2012 @ 6:04 p.m.

No, it's the community facility at Eastlake I.


bvagency Sept. 19, 2012 @ 3:23 p.m.

Actually Surfpuppy thats a photo of the man made Eastlake in the Eastlake I community.


erupting Sept. 19, 2012 @ 4:01 p.m.

Don't forget that IPads were also paid from the Mello-Roos funds without the Eastlakers knowledge. Brand needs to go. I wonder how many people from will show up at the Mon. Board show how they feel.


eastlaker Sept. 19, 2012 @ 4:20 p.m.

I hope a good-sized crowd will be on hand, willing to express their well-thought-out opinions on all that is going on here in the SUHSD. I haven't heard a single person defend Brand for almost a year now. (People had wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt after Gandara, but--we are way beyond that now).

The reality is that we have no idea what has been going on with the Mello-Roos funds, or Categorical funds, or just about any other fund for that matter. Guess it is just all one big pile of fun for Ed Brand and cohorts--a group that truly lacks a sense of community responsibility, a group that is openly disrespectful of the public at the board meetings.

Meanwhile there is more turmoil to sort out because of one blunder after another, ad infinitum.

Can we please move people into these positions who can actually function: think, speak, act in an ethical and fiscally responsible manner!


anniej Sept. 19, 2012 @ 4:40 p.m.

erupting: i am hearing there will be a large turn out. john mccann jim cartmill - both live in the eastlake area - do they not owe their constituents a NO VOTE ON BRAND? yes they do.............

what does brand care that he took the boundaries down resulting in massive overcrowding - even though the district disputes this fact), what does brand care that he is borrowing from mello roos to keep the district going (he stated so at the march meeting at sweetwater high), what does brand care that he is using ? (still don't have a straight answer) funds for things such as day care and ipads for the first elementary charter school - but never fear east side folks - brand has a 2nd elementary charter school coming your way - that he no doubt will use mello roos funds to fund.

brand does not care - because he does not live in our community, he lives up north.


anniej Sept. 19, 2012 @ 4:31 p.m.

no matter if you live on fifth avenue in chula vista or a mello roos home in eastlake let us consider this fact we are a community. what makes us such? i as a west sider have gone to football and basketball games on the east side. i see persons i knew as a teenager, i see persons who use to live on the west side - and, we sit, chat and share informational updates regarding our families. my home is modest but very large home, bought it for (hold onto your hats) $39,000.00 (that was alot back then, ha ha) and put 20k down - many, many, many moons ago. i sit on a cliff overseeing the new otay park, i enjoy those breezes and can see from the ocean to the mountains. i love my home. my friends on the east side love their homes as well. i do not judge them by their address nor do they judge me by mine.

our children do not see the 805 as a great divide, they see it as a freeway. more times than not the children in my family (who also live on the west side (old chula vista)) call east siders their closest friends.

what is my point? we are all one big community - no matter what our address. WHEN, THOUGH, those who choose to move and pay the higher taxes, they should then get the benefits of those higher taxes. they should have the confidence, in the case of school issues, that their taxes are being used for their children. we should understand and not begrudge that act.


anniej Sept. 19, 2012 @ 4:32 p.m.

up until recently not many folks on either the west or east side truly understood all that was wrong with sweetwater. they had no idea how their prop o monies were being spent, or their mello roos, or their other taxes. they paid them and trusted the persons they voted into board positions to be fiduciary guardians of their hard earned tax dollars. in the case of sweetwater, that did not/has not happened. and now the giant called taxpayers (both sides of 805) have awakened. NOT A GOOD THING!!!! we are now angry - angry with the lack of transportation, angry with the pocket book that the ipads are being paid from, angry that our superintendent has failed fix 7-12 and now is using our tax dollars to lend to 2 start up charter schools, angry that dr. brand has eliminated school boundaries thereby opening up the flood gates of students from the west side to the east which has resulted in massive over crowding (even though the district disputes that fact.

this community did not want the alleged corruption of pay to play under 'the gandara'. we were disappointed when board members we believed in took thousands upon thousands from contractors as campaign donations and then failed to heed our warnings regarding prop o tax dollars. interesting point, i (west sider) and mr. - (an east sider) lead the fight against the prop o mismanagement - did the board listen? NO.

we applauded john mccan when he and the board announced 'the gandara' was gone, then became enraged when we saw his 'retirement package'. now, once again we are looking to our board members to do the right thing - tell brand - you know when you handed in your resignation on 8-31 and then went to the star news and ut and threw us under the bus - well you exposed your true intentions, you, dr. brand do not have sweetwater running thru your blood, instead you have greed. SO BE GONE

the manner in which the mello roos funds are allegedly being pillaged is nothing short of reprehensible. if i feel this way and it does not affect me, how do you think those that pay them feel?

board, please do the right thing - for our children, and FOR OUR WALLETS. we need leadership that truly understands the dynamics and yes differences of neighborhoods within the south bay. time to begin the search for a new superintendent NOW - for the good OF US ALL. we need an interim that is trusted by all in the mean time.


johndewey Sept. 20, 2012 @ 9:06 a.m.

While I agree with everything being said about dumping Brand and the majority of the SUHSD school board, this article also brings other issues to mind. The "elephant in the room" as they say, is the fact that since Prop 13, schools have been underfunded. I believe California's national ranking on per-pupil-spending dropped significantly since the initiative passed. Certainly school funding isn't the only issue. Priorities in spending must be addressed as well. Before anything else, monies should be spent on services directly related to the classroom. Apparently this hasn't been the case in Sweetwater.


eastlaker Sept. 20, 2012 @ 11:35 a.m.

A large share of the problem is that we can't figure out where the money has gone--because it is a gigantic secret. With the exception, of course, of Ed Brand and Associates' $20,000/mo. consultancy fee.

With the news that the company that handles Sweetwater's bonds is being investigated for mismanagement, it is even more urgent that the community really get a handle on the finances in the district. Apparently everyone gets to play fast and loose with our tax money, and we are just supposed to sit and take it. Really.

When will those with the title of "trustee" step up to their jobs? Do they not understand the concept of honesty? Is there something unclear about the distinctions between right and wrong?

The majority board also seems blind, deaf and dumb. I realize that this statement opens me up to a charge of insensitivity--but how else can you explain their lack of response to many, many problems that have been brought to their attention?

How insular can people get? How can that type of ailment be cured? I wish I knew.

I only know that the boiling point is being reached when it comes to the complete disregard of the public's needs and goals here in Sweetwater.

We do not want self-serving politicos who pretend they are interested in doing their jobs. We want community representatives who actually know how to do their jobs, and then do their jobs honestly, accurately and with concern for the betterment of the whole.


anniej Sept. 20, 2012 @ 1:06 p.m.

johndewey: you are right, for far too long far too many have had their hands in the cookie jar.

much is being learned about the 'relationships' of certain board members and certain superintendents behind the scenes. additionally 'relationships' of certain board members and certain administrators in the past.

what i elude to has NOTHING to do with intrapersonal, for the record.


jskdn Sept. 20, 2012 @ 11:39 a.m.

These Mello-Roos exactions, or the exactions paid for by developers, are themselves examples of the lack of the shared sense of community obligation. Many of the things that such fees paid for had previously been financed by community wide taxes. Instead of asking the community to share in the cost these facilities, government put these costs on new development, and by extension the buyers of the new homes. Prop 13 already forced these same new owners to pay a disproportionate share of the property tax funding of government due to Prop 13's purchase price assessment provisions. So government then decides to stick them alone with additional costs of building news schools and parks. It's hypocritical to fret over the lack of these owners participation in paying for public facilities out of their area as dividing the community when the same, only worse, has already been done to them.


eastlaker Sept. 20, 2012 @ 12:43 p.m.

But right now we need to concentrate on regaining reasonable control over Sweetwater UHSD, as those who were charged with the public trust have for the most part, violated that trust. We need to unify, and work on the problems. We cannot change history and redo Prop 13.

We need to work with what we have--which includes finding honest people who want to assist in getting Sweetwater back on track. At the most recent meeting, people stepped up to volunteer their services. It would benefit the community of Sweetwater to follow up on those offers.

It is time for good people to be making good decisions.


jskdn Sept. 20, 2012 @ 5:56 p.m.

I was only speaking to a narrative I perceived in this article. I couldn't disagree with your stated aims. But it's not easy to get agreement about what the right path is, or even agreement on what the facts are to base that upon. School district's board elections tend to be dominated by the those who get checks from the schools. Those outside of that realm tend not to have the same sustained interest to influence a district's direction. But if you have people willing to volunteer in an effort to make the district better, I'd think that creating some sort of organization and a website that the public can use to access useful information and interact might be a worthwhile path to the ends you seek. It's easy to become overwhelmed by school budget documents and the arcana associated with them. A few people will likely have to do a lot of work to make this accessible to the many. Good luck.


eastlaker Sept. 20, 2012 @ 8:12 p.m.

Thank you for joining in. The historical perspective is important, and you are correct with what you say.

Wider community involvement is the answer, and it is difficult to achieve that, let alone sustain that. However, unless we who live within the confines of this school district wish to watch our schools unravel and our communities become travesties of what they once were, we need to get involved and stay involved.

The bunch who have been "running the show" have greatly lost touch with what the community wants, and what is worse, they don't really seem to care one way or another about that. They act as though they are beyond the reach of the mere citizen-taxpayers, lowly as we are.

The contempt with which we are treated can be measured by the lack of attention on the part of most of the board members (and Brand, when he bothers to show up) as well as their body language. They do not listen to the speakers during the allotted time for community input, they do not make eye contact, they act like middle schoolers who can't wait to get out of home room.

We need intelligent, responsible adults who will make intelligent, responsible decisions that will help our schools, our students and our teachers. That is basic, normal stuff. Why is that so difficult in Sweetwater?


anniej Sept. 21, 2012 @ 11:20 p.m.

jskdkn: historically in the sweetwater district it has been the contractors, many which were given contracts in our prop bb and prop o projects.

when the community attempted to bring this to a halt asking that they change their campaign donations policies they did not even raise it for discussion. then when we asked that it be put on the agenda again, what did they do - they voted in a new policy stating that no item could be discussed more than once a year. too bad they did not know the law, the request has been submitted before the policy was changed.


anniej Sept. 20, 2012 @ 4:25 p.m.

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.


Susan Luzzaro Sept. 21, 2012 @ 7:51 a.m.


Thank you for your early comments. I think Chula Vista will be a test case as this relatively new way of financing development plays out. As Mr. Howard says, what will become of the East side subdivisions when these bonds are gone--and will that have even more of an effect on the west side. I think there are a number of southern California developments that used Mello-Roos, but Chula Vista was the development queen.


Jmbrickley Sept. 21, 2012 @ 10:57 a.m.


Unfortunately, by the time the east side is to receive funds from Prop O, there won't be any money left. By that time, so many years will have passed, that the west side will need further upgrades and that old saw about them being really old schools will prevail in Board discussions. By that time the CFD monies (Mello-Roos) will be wiped out and both Brand and the current board members will be long gone. Decisions today have a huge impact on what decisions can be made in the future.


anniej Sept. 21, 2012 @ 9:50 a.m.

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.


eastlaker Sept. 21, 2012 @ 1:17 p.m.

Yes, we will not lose sight of the goal.

The moment is almost upon us, we will not waiver!


Sign in to comment