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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Davis parcel tax banners elicit legal action from conservative law group ahead of Measure N campaign

The Davis Joint Unified School District received a cease and desist letter from Beth Bourne after hanging banners that thanked the community for parcel taxes 

 

By HANNAH SCHRADER city@theaggie.org

 

On Jan. 29, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) was served with a cease and desist letter from Dhillon Law Group on behalf of Yolo County Moms for Liberty Chair Beth Bourne. 

The letter was prompted by a series of posters, banners and flyers that were hung at schools in the district. The banners’ statement that parcel taxes enhance the district’s ability to provide high-quality education prompted the letter. 

“Parcel Taxes Fund Our Exceptional Programs,” one sign in front of the district office read. Measure N, a proposed policy that would continue existing parcel taxes, is not directly mentioned in any of the banners.

“The District has used public resources to urge voters to adopt Measure N, a parcel tax that would fund District operations,” Attorney Jesse Franklin-Murdock, an associate at Dhillon Law Group, wrote in the letter.

Measure N would mainly fund public educational programs in Davis public schools and will be on the March 5 presidential primary ballot. Measure N hopes to continue the funding that was previously introduced in the expired Measure H. 

“We write to demand that the District cease its illegal conduct immediately,” Murdock wrote.

Beth Bourne is a UC Davis alumna and long-term Davis resident. In Oct. 2023, DJUSD filed a temporary restraining order against Bourne for harassing teachers who displayed pride flags in their classrooms. Bourne shared that she supports parcel taxes but has accused DJUSD of funding the campaign.

“I’ve always voted in the past for the school parcel tax,” Bourne said. “The school district is sponsoring it, and the school district passed a resolution to put it on the ballot. But how does the school district campaign for it? And what resources can a government institution use?”

Bourne stated that she first noticed the banners at her child’s high school.

“When I saw the signs [and] the banners at my [child’s] high school campus, and then […] at our neighborhood elementary school, I was concerned,” Bourne said.

Bourne’s lawyer, Murdock, outlined the main argument of the cease and desist letter.

“Saying that the deciding factor is whether the banners, the signs, the other materials, reference Measure N specifically kind of misses the point,” Murdock said. “[Statutes] don’t want you to urge public support or opposition to a ballot proposition or a candidate. Now, there are plenty of ways to do this without actually mentioning the candidate’s name.”

Murdock stated his belief that the cease and desist letter is one of many ways to find out where the funding for the banners came from. 

“Given that the signs were all over the district property, it gives rise to a presumption that surely government resources were used,” Murdock said. “I want to find out exactly which ones and I think there’s a number of ways.”

Murdock stated that the law group recently filed a public records request to DJUSD to confirm whether government resources were used for the campaign. 

Additionally, DJUSD requested a 14-day extension to a public records request that was made by The Aggie on Feb. 6. 

“Accordingly, while the District is not required to create records in response to your CPRA [California Public Records Act] request, the District will search its records to determine whether there are relevant records pertaining to your request,” DJUSD said in an email response to The Aggie’s request.

Kristen Conner, DJUSD’s public information officer, noted the district’s position on the matter in a statement via email.

“We have had many posters and banners around the district for years, thanking voters for their support of these taxes (much like you would see along the highway construction ‘your tax dollars at work),” Conner said. “In fact, many of those posters and banners have been in place since the passage of Measure H in 2016. As you can read in the banners, the statements are informational and factual and do not mention or advocate for the passage of Measure N. We have no plan to remove them.”

Conner ended her statement by answering whether further legal action would be taken.

“The letter from the [San Francisco] law group received a legal response that their allegations were without merit,” Conner said. “We consider this matter closed.”

 

Written by: Hannah Schrader — city@theaggie.org

 

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