Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris revealed Tuesday that he has halted negotiations on a plan to develop commercial uses for Laney College properties because of a perceived conflict of interest for one of the participants.
Former Laney Physical Plant Director Ineda Adesanya’s consulting firm, IPA Solutions, was to be retained under contract to develop a facilities management plan for the district but was also listed as part of the team for developer Alan Dones’ Oakland-based Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA). Harris said the contract offer has been withdrawn.
The disclosure surfaced as the newly-elected Peralta Board of Trustees discussed the chancellor’s proposal for a contract with a third firm to produce a comprehensive land use development report for the district. The board then tabled Harris’s proposal.
The Harris announcements and the board action came in rapid succession during the first meeting of the new Peralta board, signaling a new era of skepticism by trustee board members.
Four of the seven Peralta trustees are first-term members, elected last month.
With no advance notice, the outgoing board of trustees gave Harris approval last month to negotiate an exclusive, one-year contract with to put together a plan to develop the Laney fields and parking lot and the adjacent administration building.
As part of his development team, Dones listed powerful developer Signature Properties, as well as Adesanya’s IPA Planning Solutions. Earlier this fall, a month after Adesanya left her job with Peralta, the trustees authorized Harris to negotiate a $90,000 contract with IPA to draft a strategic plan for the Peralta District facilities.
The SUDA proposals brought immediate opposition from representatives of various Laney College constituencies.
At this week’s trustee meeting, before Harris announced that the SUDA deal was on hold, Laney College Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Stan Peters told the board that the Laney College Faculty Senate, the Associated Students organization, and the Laney Classified Senate had all passed resolutions opposing the SUDA contract. They requested that the Peralta Community College District “not give away Laney College education land to special interest groups.”
According to Peters, developing the field and parking lot would “destroy the education environment, athletic fields, and green areas of Laney College. These are not under-utilized or surplus lands, but green areas that make Laney look and feel like a college campus.”
The proposed development would “turn Laney College into an asphalt jungle,” Peters said. He declared that the Laney Faculty Senate would call for a grand jury investigation “into this illegal affair” if the district went through with the contract.
Meanwhile, more controversy was surfacing about SUDA itself. A check of SUDA associates listed on its website revealed that one of the principals in SUDA is controversial San Francisco bond financier Calvin Grigsby. Grigsby, who has close ties to State Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland), was indicted in 1996 for an illegal campaign contribution to former Alameda County Supervisor Mary King.
King, now a consultant and lobbyist for SUDA, was part of SUDA’s presentation at the November Peralta trustee meeting. In 1999, Grigsby was indicted—but later acquitted—on federal charges of misusing $1.5 million in Port of Miami funds. In 1999, Perata was fined by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failure to report $65,000 in income from six clients to his Perata Engineering consultant firm. Grigsby was one of the clients whose payment went unreported.
Harris proposed a six-month, $45,000 contract with Scala Design & Development Services of Oakland to develop a district-wide facility land use and bond measure report. Newly-elected trustee Cy Gulassa questioned Harris’s proposal because it failed specify how it would coordinate with the SUDA and IPA contracts.
“The IPA contract was withdrawn because of a conflict,” Harris told him. “The board approved it, but it was never executed. There is no contract with IPA Associates.”
When Gulassa said that he wished the announcement of the contract’s withdrawal had come sooner, Harris told him, “The opportunity did not present itself before,” adding that “I’m making it public now.”
Harris said the conflict occurred because IPA had been listed by Dones as part of the Laney land development project.
He then announced that the SUDA contract itself was on hold because of “the controversy.”
“There’s been no negotiation with Alan Dones and there’s been no effort to move forward,” he said. “We did not move forward because I believe that entering the contract was premature.”
The trustees also deemed Harris’ proposed contract with Scala incomplete. Following a brief presentation by Scala principal Atheria Smith, the trustees approved, 4-3, a substitute motion by Trustee Nicky Gonzáles Yuen to table the Scala proposal. (Trustees Yuen, Gulasa, Clifton, and Withrow in favor of tabling, while trustees Linda Handy, Marcie Hodge, and Bill Riley voted against the tabling.)
Yuen said he made the motion “because we need to take a slight step back in this process.” Under Yuen’s motion, the proposed Scala contract will first go to the facilities committees of Peralta’s four colleges, and then return to the trustees at the end of January.
In another signal that the new trustees plan to keep Harris on a short leash, the board killed his proposal to increase the amount of changes the chancellor can make in large construction projects without trustee approval. The vote was 3-3-1 (Alona Clifton, Handy, and Riley voting aye, Gulassa, Hodge, and Bill Withrow voting no, Yuen abstaining)
Currently, the chancellor is limited to making $200,000 in changes before coming to the board, but Harris wanted that limit to be raised to 5 percent of the original contract price.
Harris said the proposal was aimed specifically at the $40.2 million construction of the new Vista College Permanent Facility in Berkeley, which would allow him to make a little over $2 million in contract changes without board approval.
He was backed by Vista president Judy Waters.
Before the vote, Harris said, “I want you to give me enough authority so that you won’t blame me for any untimely construction delays if we come up with unexpected contingencies.”
He said that he would live with the decision taken by the trustees.
In one of the trustee board’s non-controversial actions, they unanimously elected Bill Riley as board president and Linda Handy as vice-president.