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Peralta Chancellor Reopens Dones Negotiations, Temporarily Pulls Back on Art Annex Contract By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday April 15, 2005

Peralta Community College Chancellor Elihu Harris is close to an agreement in principle with Oakland developer Alan Dones on a controversial Peralta-Laney College land development proposal, but plans to present the agreement to Peralta Trustees in coming weeks without his recommendation. 

In other Peralta land-use news, an $8 million no-bid contract for the new Laney Art Annex was pulled off the Peralta Trustee agenda for Tuesday night at the last minute. 

On the Peralta-Laney development issue, Harris would only say that he is “moving forward” with discussions with Dones over the developer proposal. “If an agreement in principle is reached,” the chancellor said, he will present it to trustees at their regularly scheduled April 26 meeting. 

But Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Michael Mills said that Harris told participants in a chancellor’s meeting last week that he had negotiated the contract with Dones. Mills added that according to Harris, the chancellor informed the developer that the agreement was being done “with a lack of enthusiasm.” 

Mills said, “I asked Elihu [at last week’s meeting] if he was going to include the notation at the end of the agenda item that the Chancellor recommends approval, and he said no.” 

Laney College Faculty Senate President Evelyn Lord—who attended the chancellor’s meeting—confirmed Mills’ account of Harris’ presentation. 

In its final meeting last November, over the objections of incoming trustees, the outgoing Peralta Board of Trustees authorized Harris to negotiate a one-year contract with Dones and Dones’ Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA) to produce a development plan for certain Laney College properties and the adjacent Peralta administrative offices. 

Complaints were later publicly voiced by Laney College representatives, including Acting College President Odell Johnson, that Dones had not consulted with them about the Laney land proposals before presenting the proposal to Peralta trustees. A month later, after the newly elected trustee board was sworn in and reports appeared in several local newspapers questioning the proposed plan, Harris announced that he put the SUDA contract negotiations on temporary hold because of the controversy. Harris said at the time he thought such negotiations were “premature.” 

Laney Faculty Senate President Lord said she expected the revived Dones proposal would be opposed by Laney College faculty representatives when it comes before trustees. 

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “There will definitely be people opposed.” 

Lord said she expects the Laney Faculty Senate to pass a resolution in opposition. 

While the Peralta-Dones land development plan proposal is back on track after several months on the back burner, another controversial proposal was put on hold at Tuesday night’s trustee meeting. 

With no explanation, Trustee Board President William Riley announced that he was removing from the agenda trustee consideration of Laney College’s new art building modular construction contract from the agenda. 

Harris had intended to ask trustees to ratify an $8.1 million, no-bid contract with non-union Meehleis Modular Builders of Lodi using an interpretation of the so-called “piggyback” provision of the California Public Contract Code. Under the provision, which is currently being reviewed by the state attorney general, school and community college districts can escape the normal bidding process by placing their purchases through another district. 

The new building is being constructed with CalTrans money to replace the existing Art Annex Building that sits on land CalTrans needs for I-880 freeway repairs. Construction of the 26,000-square-foot building is currently scheduled to begin in mid May. 

Riley said following the meeting that “it just made sense to go back and review the contract after all the questions were raised.” 

Harris said, “We want to make sure we’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.” 

Harris noted that the delay will cause some problems with the timing of the building construction. “We really needed to get this done tonight,” he said. 

PFT President Mills had been scheduled to speak at Tuesday night’s trustee meeting in opposition to the Meehleis art annex contract, but withdrew his remarks after the item was withdrawn from the agenda. In a later telephone interview, Mills said he was opposed to the contract on four grounds. 

“The first point is appearance,” he said. “That is absolutely critical. This looks bad. If we need to go before the public on a bond measure in the future, we don’t want local newspapers reprinting articles about these kinds of deals. The second point is that Oakland is a union town, and unions are in favor of a livable wage for workers. Meehleis is a non-union company that pays sub-standard wages. It’s unthinkable that this would not be taken into consideration by the Peralta administration. The third point of opposition is that the PFT believes all such contracts should get signed off by Peralta Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith before it comes to the trustees. We don’t believe that happened in this case, even though it’s his office that is responsible for tracking the money. And finally, I am opposed to the Meehleis contract because it’s a no-bid contract, and the law being used to approve it is questionable, at best.” 

Mills noted that on the same trustee agenda, the district awarded a $92,000 contract for janitorial supplies on bid. The contract was awarded to Janitorial Supplies Corporate Express, Inc. of Union City. 

“If piggybacking contracts was sound policy, this janitorial supply contract would be the appropriate place to put it,” Mills said. 

Mills also said that the art annex contract background mentioned that Peralta administrators contacted three companies before awarding the contract to Meehleis. “If they had time to discuss it with three companies, they had time to send it out to those companies for bid,” he said.ô