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College Trustees Approve Scaled-Back Bond Fund Measure, Eliminate Some City Projects

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

August 6 -- In a last-minute reversal -- and hours before a ballot submission deadline -- the College Board of Trustees voted unanimously at a special meeting early Friday to place on the November ballot a scaled-down version of the “partnership” bond measure it narrowly rejected Monday night.

The scaled-back bond measure will no longer fund a variety of projects in Santa Monica -- including an arboretum, a children’s outdoor fitness center, and renovations to the aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

College officials hope that voters in the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu -- which together make up the college district -- will cast votes for the measure if specific projects are in it for them.

If approved by 55 percent of district voters, the bond funds would be used in part for partnership projects with the cities, such as the joint purchase of land for playing fields that would be used by both college and community teams.

After failing by one vote Monday to achieve the minimum five votes to approve the ballot measure, college administrators came back to their board mid-week with a smaller proposal, reducing the total amount of the bond from $175 million to $135 million by eliminating some projects and cutting budgets for others.

Don Girard, executive assistant to college president Piedad Robertson, said the modified measure retains “the most critically-needed instructional improvements,” such as development of playing fields and construction of a childcare center that would serve as a lab for child development students and a daycare for the community.

Absent from the new proposal are projects less directly related to the college’s educational programs -- such as an arboretum, a children’s outdoor fitness center, and renovations to the aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

The projects that were eliminated were all proposed partnerships with the City of Santa Monica. The money allotted to partnerships with the City of Malibu, which has expressed much more eagerness than Santa Monica in participating in bond-funded projects, remains unchanged at $25 million.

In addition to eliminating some projects, $11 million was cut from the budgets of projects that remain on the bond. For example, funds for a career center were slashed by $3 million, and $2 million of the funding for energy efficiency improvements was cut. Robertson said the college would apply for grants and other sources of money to compensate.

Trustee Graham Pope -- one of two who voted against the proposal Monday -- said the scaled-down measure alleviated his concern that, by including projects which are more city-focused than educationally-focused, the bond funds could be jeopardized.

“I am now personally more comfortable that, with the revisions we have made, we have moved closer to the intentions of Prop. 39 [which allows educational bonds to pass with only 55 percent of the vote] and the educational intent,” Pope said.

Pope reversed his vote even though he said he was “still troubled by the timing and some of the other elements of the revised proposal.” He, Trustee Annette Shamey -- the other trustee who voted against the bond Monday -- and Vice Chair Carole Currey -- who abstained -- had all said Monday that it was too soon to ask for another bond only two years after voters granted them a $160 million bond.

The reduction to the bond’s size reduces some of the taxpayer burden, shrinking the cost for homeowners from $22.67 per $100,000 each year for the life of the bond -- likely ten to 12 years -- to $18.17 per $100,000.

Shamey, like Pope, said she reversed her vote despite lingering concerns.

“I’m still bothered by the amount of the bond,” Shamey said. “I’m still bothered by the timing. I’m still concerned about the rush factor. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not concerned about that.” But she said she wanted “the best future possible for this community college” and joined the others in supporting the measure.

Shamey had expressed concern Monday that there was not enough time to finalize partnership agreements with Santa Monica and Malibu before the ballot submission deadline.

It seems likely that Malibu will reach an agreement with the college. The Malibu city attorney has been meeting with college officials throughout the summer and the Malibu mayor and mayor pro tem, along with a City Council member and the city manager, attended the special meeting to show support for the bond.

The bond would allot money for new educational facilities and playing fields in Malibu, and Mayor Sharon Barovsky said she “couldn’t be more delighted” that the measure would be going to the ballot.

But the Santa Monica Council has been much more hesitant to act and had only begun preliminary discussions of a partnership agreement when Monday’s vote against the bond halted the process. Only the assistant city manager represented the city at the college trustee meetings Monday and Friday.

Some Santa Monica residents, too, have been reluctant to support the bond. Two residents of Sunset Park -- the neighborhood that surrounds the main college campus on three sides -- spoke against the bond Friday morning, saying the trustees should provide neighbors with a long-term projection of how much more the college will grow before more money is allotted to expand facilities.

The Sunset Park residents also questioned that last-minute rush to get the measure to the ballot.

“Where was the chance for public input on the new bond measure?” said Ed Moosbrugger, co-chair of the Sunset Park College Commission. “This is a significantly different bond measure, especially in the amount of money to be allocated to Santa Monica,” he said.

College Vice President Tom Donner said the board had the right, under the Brown Act, to call the special meeting and that college officials had provided the requisite 24 hours notice.

Under the state open meetings law, special meetings are permitted with 24 hours’ notice to members of the governing body involved and to media who request written notification.

The Lookout requested such notice and it was received at 8:50 a.m. on Thursday, August 5 -- 20 minutes past the 24-hour deadline.

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