By Ted Lam

DEADLINE: Start now –

On July 13, 2020 I was one of over a dozen people who Zoomed into the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors’ Legislative Committee meeting to support Proposition 15. Prop 15 – also known as  Schools and Communities First – is a California ballot initiative that would reclaim $11 billion every year for schools and local communities by closing a state corporate property tax loophole that benefits wealthy corporations and investors. Our goal: to persuade Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and Diane Burgis to support Prop 15 and get them to urge the entire Board of Supervisors to endorse the proposition. One by one, we each spoke about how passage of Prop 15 would help our communities – from ensuring needed local health care to better funding of our local schools. I was there because this is an issue I’ve seen unfairly affect California schools and communities for many years – and it now affects my own son.

We’ve written about this issue before, and you can find a summary, with links to previous articles, here. Briefly – once passed, Prop 15 would:

  • RECLAIM over $11 billion per year for K-12 schools, community colleges, and local communities.
  • CLOSE commercial property tax loopholes and end shady schemes that big corporations and wealthy investors use to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes.
  • PROTECT all homeowners and renters by maintaining tax protections for ALL residential property.

California urgently needs these protections. COVID-19 has exposed terrible inequities and gaps in our school districts. Schools nationwide don’t have adequate nursing care or health necessities, or may lack them altogether –  a problem before the pandemic, a disaster now. Without adequate funding for increased sanitation, schools will become breeding grounds for the virus. And that doesn’t even touch on the inequities in education funding itself. Shockingly, California teachers spend more of their own money on school supplies than teachers anywhere else in the country. Districts running deficits before face even more expenses, in the form of distance learning and sanitation expenses, for last spring and the upcoming school year. In the words of Helen Kang, a teacher in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District with 25 years of teaching experience:

My school district is like many large school districts in California and had a multi million dollar deficit even before COVID 19 hit. [T]he custodial staff at my school sometimes runs out of supplies and I’ve asked parents to help … One dream of mine is that public schools will be funded to the point where we can proactively support students who need academic and/or behavioral support. In early childhood education and in grades K-2, more support for students could make a huge difference for students later in their education and help interrupt the school to prison pipeline. Some studies say that two thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare and that about 60% of inmates are functionally illiterate. The saddest part of this statistic is that it is preventable. If we had more resources for high quality preschool and kindergarten, we could drastically change this statistic.

Under Prop 15, Alameda County could get up to $700 million per year, and Contra Costa County could get over $400 million per year, beginning in 2022.

After hearing from all of us, Supervisors Mitchoff and Burgiss endorsed Prop 15 and agreed to forward it to the entire Board with the recommendation that the Board also endorse the measure. Check the Board’s upcoming meeting schedules and agendas.

IEB has endorsed Prop 15, as have the California Democratic Party, Senator Kamala Harris, State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond, and many others. Thousands of Californians, like me, collected 1.7 million signatures to put it on the November 2020 ballot. 

As I mentioned, this has personal meaning to me. I feel so strongly about Prop 15 that I spoke to Supervisors Mitchoff and Burgiss, and I wrote this letter to the editor of the Mercury News explaining why County Assessors can do the important work of assessing commercial properties. Maybe you don’t have a kid in school right now – but whether you do or not, it’s a matter of justice and equity. We need to do what is best for everyone, not just for those who can afford to choose private school instead of public school or create homeschool “pods.” Even if you don’t have a child, or even if you have a child who isn’t in public school, the community still needs you to fight for everyone’s best interest.

Passing Prop 15 won’t be easy because special interests will fight hard against it, but it is so necessary – now more than ever. Please join me and help us pass Prop 15 in November – contact me at

Graphic by Schools and Communities First

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

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