If passed Nov. 7, Measure E would authorize the Peralta Community College District to issue school bonds for $153 million to repair and renovate classrooms, training facilities, science and computer labs, meet health and safety standards and replace inadequate electrical and sewage systems, as well as construct and acquire other facilities.
But Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring are threatening to pull their support for the measure unless the needs of Vista College are taken into account explicitly.
The four colleges under the umbrella of the Peralta College District – Alameda, Laney, Merritt, and Vista – all stand to benefit from the bond measure.
Where that money will go is uncertain, argued Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been meeting with Amey Stone, the Peralta College board president.
“They have verbally agreed to use some of the Measure E moneys to create a permanent campus for Vista College in Berkeley,” he said.
“For the last month, we’ve been trying to get them to put that in writing.”
Added Spring, “We want Measure E to pass, but have an obligation to our citizens to make sure that some of that money comes to Vista College.”
Spring and Worthington want about $25 million from the Measure E funds for a permanent campus at the corner of Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley.
“The site is already purchased, and there is already $15 million ready to go, but that’s not nearly enough,” Spring said.
Board President Stone said that there is a plan to raise the Vista campus fund to $32 million, and that this money would come from Measure E moneys, depending on voter’s approval of the measure.
Ron Temple, the board president, said that the board has already passed a resolution committing itself to “Scheme A,” a plan to build the permanent Berkeley campus.
“Scheme A commits us to a 145,000 square foot building, subject to approval of Measure E. Legally, we can’t do more than that. We’re bound,” said Temple, adding that he’d send Worthington a fax with the July 11 resolution.
“It’s already designated in the budget if the measure passes. The commitment is there. We’ve bought land, we’ve hired an architect, we have a plan,” said Temple.
Worthington said that he was sending faxes back and forth to the Board, and that if a written agreement isn’t hammered out, he will oppose the measure.
“I hate to issue ultimatums, but Vista College has been burned in the past by this board, and before we support such a measure, we want to make sure we have a guarantee, in writing,” he said.
“It’s nice of them to say those things, but it is not the signed agreement between two legally constituted entities that we are asking for,” he said. “If that’s the case, and we don’t get anything from them to that level, we will not vote to support them.”
Worthington said that the need for such a legally binding agreement comes from a history of distrust. Vista College nearly de-annexed itself from the Peralta Community College District when former Assemblymember Tom Bates and Councilmember Maudelle Shirek proposed a “succession suit” to remove Vista College from Peralta Community College District. “It wasn’t until the writing was on the wall, that Peralta purchased the current site and allocated the money for a permanent campus,” Spring said. “There is a lot of bad blood between Vista and that board.”
Jeff Heyman, spokesperson for the Peralta Community College District, said the discussions reminded him of his past work for the United Nations. “I was a public information officer in Bosnia. We’d work with Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and suddenly someone would bring up something from the 13th Century. History has a way of making people disbelieve the present. The reality is that there is an absolute, firm commitment to build that permanent facility in Berkeley,” said Heyman.
“What people need to realize is that this board has a new chancellor and new management. We are not talking about the same entity that had so much difficulty in the past,” he continued.