Peralta Trustee Race Raises Questions on Bond Money

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday November 03, 2006

Reaction to a Peralta Area 7 trustee candidates debate has raised questions about what local voters committed themselves to in last June’s Peralta Measure A bond vote. 

In that June election, voters overwhelmingly approved Measure A, giving the district the authority to issue $390 million in bonds to pay for upgrades to facilities in the four-college community college district. 

The question is: Did the June vote commit the district to a specific, line-item list of projects on which the $390 million must be spent, and did Peralta trustees authorize a plan for the district to be able to prioritize that spending? 

In an Oct. 24 article entitled “Peralta Candidates Get Facts Wrong on Key Issues,” the Planet reported that Area 7 challenger Abel Guillen said at an Oct. 17 Laney College candidates forum that Peralta “doesn’t have a plan for the spending of [the Measure A] bond money, just a laundry list of projects.”  

In the article, the Planet reported that contrary to Guillen’s assertion, the district included an itemized, budgeted list of projects on the ballot, committing the bond money to those projects. 

In response, Peralta Community College District trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen said by telephone last week, “I think [the Planet] got it wrong” in reporting that Peralta was committed to spending Measure A money only from an itemized list. 

The list of projects included on the Measure A ballot “is just a hodgepodge list, a wish list,” Yuen said. “There’s no budget attached to it. We don’t have enough bond money to accomplish it all. It’s kind of like a slush fund for the district. I think Abel’s contention is absolutely right. There’s only the most vague delineation of catchall projects. I almost didn’t vote for it when it came before the trustees [for approval last spring], it was so sloppily put together. There’s no way we can do everything on this list.” 

Yuen was correct in saying that only a broad summary of projects—not an itemized list—appeared on the ballot last June under Measure A. 

But the confusion comes from the fact that two lists were under consideration and circulated to the public during the February 28, 2006 board meeting in which Peralta trustees authorized the bond measure. 

One list, the broad, unbudgeted outline of projects to which Yuen referred, was included on the ballot as the “bond project list” legally required under the Proposition 39 guidelines under which Measure A passed. 

But a second list of projects, with estimated costs included next to each project, was part of the executive summary that was included for consideration by the board for the bond measure. Entitled “Estimated Cost Proposal for Capital Outlay Projects and Facilities Improvements District-Wide 2006-2021,” the items in the second list totaled $451.4 million. 

The executive summary explained that this list was generated after “the district … conducted a comprehensive facilities need inventory which identifies approximately $452 million in additional facilities repair, upgrade, renovation, and replacement needs for the next 15 years. … $390 million of this is being proposed for new local bond measure, while the remaining $62 million is expected to be contributed [by other sources].” 

An updated version of this list, keeping the same projects but adding more dollar figures, has been posted to the district’s Dept. of General Services webpage under the link “Measure A Capital Projects.” 

Does this mean that the district is committed to these projects under Measure A? Peralta Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith was out of the office this week and Peralta General Counsel Thuy Nguyen was out on maternity leave, but another trustee, Cy Gulassa, seems to think it the district is committed. 

“My understanding is that we were endorsing that [itemized list] as a requirement of the bond referendum” during the Feb. 28 trustee meeting, Gulassa said this week in a telephone interview. “That’s what I thought we voted on.” 

Gulassa added that several trustees, including himself and Yuen, “had expressed concern that the district did not have such a list” in the days immediately preceding the Feb. 28 meeting. “I wasn’t happy with everything that was on the list. But I was happy that they came up with a list.” 

Gulassa said that he wished that Peralta had come up with “an itemized list with comprehensive guidelines on how the money was to be spent and how it fit into the district priorities” such as he said was produced by the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District for a recent Proposition 39 bond measure. 

Gulassa formerly taught in the Foothill-DeAnza district. Yuen still teaches there. 

In addition, both Gulassa and Yuen have endorsed challenger Guillen over incumbent Alona Clifton in the Area 7 trustee race. 

If trustees did, indeed, approve the itemized construction bond list at the Feb. 28 meeting, California court rulings would suggest that the district is committed to following that list, even if the list itself did not appear on the June ballot. 

In a 1979 ruling concerning North Peralta Community College (the college that was housed in the building that originally housed Merritt College), the California Court of Appeals ruled that a bond measure is essentially a contract between a government agency and the voters, with “the resolution by which the bonding entity resolves to submit the issue to [its] electors” being one portion of that contract. 

Citing the North Peralta ruling in a recent bond measure case involving the Southern California school district of Hermosa Beach, the Appeals Court ruled that under Prop 39, “neither the state Constitution nor the Education Code requires that the list of specific school facilities projects to be funded through a bond measure be included on the ballot. … The School District satisfied the Constitution’s accountability requirements by preparing and making available the required list of projects.” 

There is still confusion whether Peralta trustees actually passed the itemized list at the Feb. 28 meeting, as Gulassa contends, or whether it only approved the more generalized list that later appeared on the June ballot. 

Board minutes from the meeting only refer to passage of Resolution 05/06-45. That resolution, as passed out at the meeting on Feb. 28, included an exhibit page for the bond project list which read “the specific college facilities projects to be funded are as follows:” The remainder of the page was left blank.