A broken promise ten years ago is prompting the Berkeley City Council to cautiously endorse a $153 million bond measure that would renovate five Peralta Community College district campuses.
In an 8-1 vote on Oct. 24, the City Council voted to endorse Measure E. The measure calls for a general obligation bond to renovate existing facilities and construct new classrooms at College of Alameda, Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland and Vista College in Berkeley — all in the Peralta Community College District. Only Councilmember Maudelle Shirek voted no.
Normally, such measures enjoy widespread community support. But Berkeley’s trepidation arose after concerns that the Peralta Community College District — which oversees the five colleges — will not fulfill their promise to build a permanent campus in Berkeley.
Last week, Joshua Damankos, president of the Associated Students of Vista College in Berkeley, said he is voting against Measure E because of its loopholes.
“Nowhere in the ballot language of Measure E is there language that would assure PCCD would build a permanent building for Vista College,” Damankos said.
Currently, Vista leases two spaces in Berkeley as well as uses classrooms on Berkeley’s University of California campus.
Damankos said he had tried unsuccessfully to get the PCCD Board to meet before the election to create a legally binding addendum to the measure that would ensure a permanent school.
According to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington — who voted to endorse the measure — a lawsuit wasfiled against the district ten years ago after they broke a promise to build a permanent campus in Berkeley.
This time, Worthington said the PCCD gave the Council every possible assurance short of putting binding language in the measure.
Worthington points to a letter written by the State Community College Board which legally binds PCCD to build a college at 2050 Center St. Worthington said the Council also considered the PCCD’s investment of $2.5 million in the property, now a parking lot, as a sign of good faith.
“If they don’t [build a permanent college campus in Berkeley], we will reinstitute the lawsuit and give them tremendous PR and legal grief,” he said.
According to PCCD spokesperson Jeff Heyman, the purchase was specifically intended for construction at the the site.
But Damankos said there is no binding agreement to stop the PCCD from selling the site after for a profit in the current hot real estate market.
Heyman said there is no doubt Vista will get a permanent building in Berkeley. Chancellor Ronald J. Temple wrote a letter to the City Council that said explicitly “we are building a permanent facility whether Measure E passes or not.”
Heyman said the PCCD already has $15 million to build the Vista facility and if Measure E passes there will be double that for construction. “Voters have to decide what they want, a $15 million school or a $35 million school,” he said.
Measure E would cost homeowners $9.87 per $100,000 of assessed home value per year.