Peralta Construction Bond Measure OK’d By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday March 03, 2006

The Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a massive $390 million construction bond measure Tuesday night, voting to place the issue before area voters on the June ballot. 

Peralta Communications Director Jeff Heyman said by telephone that “because the last bond measure passed by 80 percent, we feel confident that this one will pass as well.” 

But immediately, district officials had to fend off concerns over whether staff, students, and the community at large would have continuing say on how the money is eventually spent, and that promised construction will be carried out. 

District Academic Senate President Joseph Belinksi and Peralta Federation of Teachers President Michael Mills both announced support at Tuesday’s trustee meeting for the bond measure, but only so long as the trustee’s motion included an amendment, added by trustee Bill Withrow, that the bond measure set up advisory committees on each campus through the existing facilities committees. Those committees include faculty and student representatives. 

“We want to make sure that there are provisions in place so that the people in the trenches—the actual stakeholders—are being heard,” Mills said. “We need your assurance that [Withrow’s] amendment will do that.” 

While voting to put the bond measure on the ballot, trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen said that he was “uncomfortable with the rush to put this through. We haven’t had time to get the input that I’d like to have.” 

Yuen also said he was “uncomfortable that we are going to end up with a $390 million slush fund.” 

Yuen is one of several trustees who have sharply criticized bond measure spending and reporting in the past. 

But speaking just before the vote, Chancellor Elihu Harris told trustees that “our intent is to not repeat the mistakes of the past. We know that plans have not always gone forward as promised. And we want to make sure the oversight is there.”  

The proposed bond would finance 10 years of construction and renovation projects spread throughout the district’s four colleges, with the bulk of the money—$213.2 million—going to the district’s oldest facility, Oakland’s Laney College, and the least of it —$3.2 million—going to the newest facility, Berkeley City College. Merritt College in Oakland and College of Alameda would get $128.3 million and $76.8 million of the construction money respectively, with another $9 million going to the College of Alameda’s Aviation Maintenance Technology Program at the college’s Alameda Air Facility. 

Construction of the new Berkeley City College campus (recently renamed from Vista College), took up the bulk of district construction bond measures passed in 1992, 1996, and 2000. 

If passed by district voters, the bonds would add slightly under $25 in taxes per $100,000 in valuation to propertyholders within the district’s boundaries. 

Oversight difficulties plagued the last Peralta construction bond measure, the $153 million Measure E passed in 2000 under former Chancellor Ron Templeton. 

Last year, some trustees complained that there was no running list of projected construction projects, so that the board was approving new projects without knowing what alternate projects those decisions might affect. In response, General Services Director Sadiq Ikharo published a comprehensive report on completed and projected Measure E construction projects last October. 

And while the new bond measure would require annual expenditure review by “an independent citizens’ oversight committee,” the district has been lax in following through with that commitment in the past. 

A November 2001 Vista College newsletter reported that a community advisory committee had been set up to oversee Vista Measure E construction projects, including then-Assemblymember Tom Bates, then-mayor Shirley Dean, Berkeley’s director of Community and Economic Development, and representatives of the UC Berkeley Office of Capital Projects, the League of Women Voters, the Berkeley YMCA, and the Berkeley Repertory Theater. 

A year later, a “report on status of colleges’ Measure E Advisory Committees” to the district trustees only indicated a statement from Chancellor Temple that “the Measure E Committees are the vehicles that include the community in the process to weigh the appropriateness of projects.” 

But SEIU Local 790 Chief Steward Greg Marro told trustees Tuesday night that he understood that the Measure E committee “met infrequently and then it was abandoned.” 

No Measure E Advisory Committee reports have been made to Peralta trustees in the past year.