Peralta Board Still Awaits Dones Contract Issue By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday May 13, 2005

The man who wasn’t there continues to be the subject of the most interest at the Peralta Community College District Trustees meetings. 

For the second meeting, faculty representatives appeared to speak on the proposed Laney College/Peralta Administration Building land development proposal contract with Oakland developer Alan Dones and his Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA). Rumors that the contract would appear on the agenda proved false. 

Negotiations for the Dones contract were authorized by the outgoing Peralta board last November, but Chancellor Elihu Harris has yet to act on them, citing the controversy surrounding the proposed project. 

Trustee Cy Gulassa said following the meeting that he has received “official word” that the Dones contract will be on the agenda for the May 31 trustee meeting. Chancellor Harris told union and Peralta faculty representatives earlier this year that when he does present the Dones contract to trustees, he will do so without his recommendation. 

Two weeks ago, representatives of the District Academic Senate and the Laney College Faculty Senate presented resolutions opposing the Dones contract. At Tuesday night’s meeting Laney Computer Instructor Carole Rogers, who said she was speaking at the request of the Laney Faculty Senate, read a prepared statement to trustees charging that some trustees may have a conflict of interest on the Dones contract. 

Such conflicts “may cloud their ability to make fair and impartial decisions related to the development of our land in general, and Mr. Dones’ contract in particular,” the statement read. “As such, we are here tonight to request that board members who may have conflicts of interest excuse yourselves from voting on any contractual agreements related, in any way, to Mr. Alan Dones or SUDA. Additionally, we request that, in order to clarify the degree to which any ties to Mr. Dones (and SUDA) are, in fact, legal conflicts of interest, we request that you seek formal written advice from the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding your legal right to vote on issues related to Mr. Dones or SUDA.” 

Asked following the meeting if she had any particular trustees in mind, Rogers said “we’re not ready to name names yet, but we will do so as this moves forward.” 

One of the Peralta trustees financially linked to Dones is Area 7 representative Alona Clifton. Clifton is the president of the non-profit North County Center for Self Sufficiency Corporation (NCCSSC), which is scheduled to have its headquarters located in Dones’ $70 million downtown Oakland Thomas L. Berkeley Square project when it opens later this year. SUDA’s Thomas L. Berkeley Square website lists Clifton and NCCSSC as one of its “key contacts and participants.” 

Clifton sat through the reading of the Rogers letter Tuesday night without comment, as did all of the other trustees. 

“No one has asked me to recuse myself from the Dones vote.” Clifton said this week during a phone interview. “I don’t know if the letter was aimed at me, because they did not say who they were referring to.” 

Asked if she would recuse herself if asked, Clifton said, “I will do whatever is proper.” She said Peralta General Counsel Thuy Nguyen told her “that in her opinion, there is no apparent conflict and she is not recommending that I recuse myself.” 

Clifton she was not opposed to contacting the Fair Political Practices Commission for an opinion on the matter, but she was satisfied with Nguyen’s recommendation. 

Clifton was one of the members of last year’s Peralta Trustee Board who voted to authorize negotiations with Dones for the development project. Sources close to the trustee board say that the present board appears to be leaning 4-3 to support the Dones contract, and that a Clifton recusal would kill the contract on a 3-3 tie. 

In an item that did make it on Tuesday’s agenda, trustees approved construction of a second set of bleachers and new toilet facilities for the Laney College football and track stadium on a 5-2 vote (Gulassa, Gonzalez Yuen voting no) after beating back attempts by Trustees Cy Gulassa and Nicky Gonzalez Yuen to table the matter for further study. Construction cost is estimated at $1.5 million. 

Trustee Linda Handy said that the completion of the stadium “is important to develop a sense of community. We built the original facility, but we forgot to build a full seating capacity. This would be completing a commitment to the community, which is footing the bills for our colleges.” 

Acting Laney President Odell Johnson agreed that the proposed stadium renovations were not a Laney proposal. 

“This is for the community,” he said. “If it were built, groups within the community will begin to come in and use the facility on a more regular basis.” 

At one point in the debate, Trustee Marcie Hodge expressed concern that the Laney stadium renovation should not be a priority. 

“I’m more concerned about problems with restrooms in the main buildings where our students actually go to class,” she said. “Should we focus on restrooms at the stadium, or on fixing toilets where we might get sued?” 

Shortly afterwards, while other trustees continued to debate, Trustee Board President William Riley engaged in an animated private discussion with Hodge as the two sat together at the trustee table. At one point, when she was called on to vote on a motion to close the debate, Hodge said, to other trustees, “Wait a minute. Bill is telling me something now that publicly we all need to hear.” 

Hodge later voted to approve the stadium construction. 

“I learned that the old board had already put aside $900,000 towards this project, and we were only being asked to add the extra half-million,” she said. “That made the project more acceptable to me.” 

The information concerning the $900,000 set-aside by the previous board was not mentioned publicly in the meeting, nor was it included in the board packet. In his memo to Chancellor Harris and the Peralta trustees concerning the project, Director of General Services Sadiq Ikharo merely wrote that the item originally came to the old board on Nov. 23, 2004 at a cost estimate of $1,532,000. 

“At that meeting,” Ikharo wrote, “the board voted to take up this item again with the newly elected board members.”