Wednesday, April 2, 2008

SBCC organizers push for bond measure


With the next statewide election just months away, Santa Barbara City College officials are launching their final push for a bond measure they call critical to renovating crumbling infrastructure and updating classroom technology.
Measure V, a $77.2 million bond issue, will appear on the June 3 ballot and seeks to fund building renovations, equipment upgrades, and disability access projects. Organizers said the impact is far greater than just a few touch-ups.

“We’re not really talking about buildings,” said Desmond O’Neill, president of the college’s board of trustees. “We’re talking about the quality of education for our students.”
Renovating facilities — many of which are more than 40 years old and even date back to the 1930s — is not only important to serving the college’s 19,000 students and 50,000 adult education participants, but also addressing health and safety concerns, he said.
For example, the Drama Music Building, a state-of-the-art facility when originally built 31 years ago, has fallen far out of date. Many physical upgrades are needed to bring it back up to current safety codes and disability access law.
“At the moment, we’re way out of compliance,” O’Neill admitted.
In all, the board of trustees have outlined 11 major projects to be funded by the bond issue — renovations and seismic retrofits for the physical science, drama/music, career tech, humanities and culinary arts buildings; campus-wide accessibility upgrades; a new building for the School of Media Arts; and restoration and seismic upgrades of the Schott and Wake centers.
SBCC has secured $44.7 million in state funds for those projects and expect that figure to rise to $92 million as more funds are released in the next few years. But organizers are concerned that matching funds could evaporate soon in the face of the state fiscal crisis.
Before 2001, the community college had 100 percent of its construction costs covered by the state, O’Neill said, along with nearly full financing on long-term maintenance projects. But since then, state officials have offered to cover just 60 percent of construction and nearly none of the costs for long-term renovations.
“The state basically said if you want more than that, you have to go out and raise it yourself,” he said.
As a result, organizers said 68 of the 72 community colleges statewide have passed bond measures in recent years.
O’Neill said the list of projects to be funded by Measure V resulted from a two-year process to identify the top priorities for the SBCC District and was not arrived at lightly.
“We didn’t want to give the voters too big a pill to swallow,” he said. “This is really a bare-bones measure.”
He compared the $77.2 million figure being requested to a $180 million bond passed for Allan Hancock College in 2006 and two bonds passed by Santa Monica College totaling $300 million in recent years.
Costs of Measure V for homeowners translate to $8.50 per $100,000 of assessed home value, O’Neil said. With the average home assessment at $368,000, he said the typical homeowner would pay approximately $35 a year more on their property taxes.
“We think that’s a reasonable price for what we’re providing,” he said.
He also dismissed fears that the college would use the funds to expand their campus, build student housing, or even boost administrative salaries.
“We’re not expanding anything,” O’Neill said.
The only new building is for the School of Media Arts, he said, to consolidate classrooms currently scattered across the campus.
“The rest of the projects are simply bringing the existing buildings into the 21st century.”
Safeguards in the bond measure, required under Proposition 39, prevent funds from being spent on anything other than items delineated in the measure, including teacher or administrator salaries.
An independent oversight committee would also be established, along with performance and financial audits.
After securing the bond measure for the June ballot several months ago, organizers have received endorsements from a wide swath of community leaders and organizations, including Congresswoman Lois Capps, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, and many others.
“Virtually no one has turned us down,” said Mary Rose, a consultant working on the Measure V campaign. “Have we had any real opposition? No.”
Mike Stoker, president of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, called it a well-crafted measure that will offer a good return on taxpayer money.
“They do a very good job, probably one of the best jobs in the state, in maximizing the taxpayer’s dollar,” Stoker said of SBCC. “…When we looked at it in terms of the specifics they put forward, we were very impressed.”
He said pumping taxpayer money into infrastructure projects would not only provide much-needed upgrades for the college, but also pour millions of dollars into the local economy in the form of design and construction contracts.
“In our opinion, it was probably one of the best fiscally conservative proposals as a bond measure that we’ve looked at in certainly quite some time,” Stoker said.
The Santa Barbara League of Women Voters is also throwing its weight behind the measure. President Linda Phillips said it fits well with the league’s mission of supporting adequate funding for education.
“I have been amazed seeing the numbers of people who use the college, both in terms of students and the number of people who participate in adult education,” she said. “To me, we get an incredible bang for our buck through City College.”
In addition to the benefits to those directly involved with the community college, she said the measure would indirectly support the community in other ways.
“The people who serve the rest of us, take care of the rest of us, are getting an education there,” Phillips said, pointing out renovations to classrooms used for nursing, health, auto and other career tech programs. “That’s an indirect benefit to the rest of us.”
With her name also gracing the list of Measure V endorsements, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said she relates to SBCC’s list of needed infrastructure improvements.
“It just seems to be a fix-up type of thing,” she said. “We all have those problems, taking care of our buildings. ... If $35 a year on my property tax helps them do that, I think it’s definitely work it.”
She compared the estimated average annual cost of the measure for a local homeowner to the price of going out to dinner and a show.
“If you think of it in those terms, it’s really not that much,” she said.
In order to pass, Measure V must garner 55 percent approval. More information on the bond issue is available at or by calling 730-3000.
The League of Women Voters is also holding a community forum on the measure on April 16 from 12:15 to 2 p.m. at the Louise Lowry Davis Community Center, free and open to the public.
O’Neill encouraged local residents or organizations who want to learn more about Measure V to call or visit the college’s website.
“We want to line up as much broad public support as possible,” he said.

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