Valley Voices

Vote ‘no’ on community colleges’ deceptive Measure C

Student Christian Luscomb, right, works on an experiment in the aging Math and Science Building at Fresno City College. The $485 million Measure C bond on the June 7 ballot proposes to replace aging facilities and build new ones throughout State Center Community College District.
Student Christian Luscomb, right, works on an experiment in the aging Math and Science Building at Fresno City College. The $485 million Measure C bond on the June 7 ballot proposes to replace aging facilities and build new ones throughout State Center Community College District. jwalker@fresnobee.com

“This present bond is premature and lacking the necessary study and articulation of exactly what the voters are approving and expecting.” So said Patrick Patterson, a trustee of the State Center Community College District, who voted against putting Measure C on the June 7 ballot.

Community colleges provide a wide range of educational and job-training opportunities to countless students – particularly in Central California. They deserve recognition for their vital service. But despite our gratitude for service they provide, the district’s governing board of trustees should be taken to task for the process used to place the Measure C bond before the voters. Even worse, there is little transparency for the bond’s expenditure plans.

Proponents may claim they followed the letter of the law. However, few members of the public were aware of the proposal before it qualified for the ballot. The bond measure was craftily presented on nearly the last day for submission (after receiving deadline extensions from local officials).

This record $485 million bond (ultimately costing property owners approximately $965 million) was presented in a manner calculated to reduce opportunity for organized opposition. As a result, no argument against Measure C is in your ballot statement (just as the SCCCD board hoped).

Complaints about the Measure C bond are not limited to process. Concerns about the substance of the bond abound.

The ballot title is “Local Community College Classroom Repair and Job Training Improvement Measure.” It offers broad platitudes and general references to projects and job training goals. The Bee editorialized in support of the bond and offered a list of specific projects and their locations and purposes. Yet this detail is not included in the ballot.

Buried within the bond proposal is reference to the “Facilities Master Plan,” which is stated as accessible on the district’s website and “incorporated herein by this reference.” Maybe that is where the information is stored. Maybe a skillful researcher can find it. Go ahead and try.

In fairness, the bond has a Fiscal Accountability section with a 16-column-inch single paragraph that contains a long rambling list of items ranging from classroom door locks and digital white boards to sidewalks and buildings.

As a campaign tactic, the district offers the carrot of funding and projects for every community college (and some new facilities) to appeal to voters throughout four counties. But everyone should not have high hopes.

A key introductory sentence preceding the rambling laundry list about “projects” reads: “The listed projects will be completed as needed.” For all the promises in the expensive ad campaign for the bond, this is an interesting choice of emphasis and commitment.

Lest you think the bond presentation is standard practice, you need only look at the SCCCD’s last bond, Measure E, in 2002 (which still has money left over) where the public was informed in very clear language what the money was for and how much was to be spent on each element of the proposal (missing from Measure C).

You can see for yourself at tinyurl.com/SCCCDbond. There is a stunning contrast in transparency.

Where is the financial support for the district’s political campaign? The State Center Community College Foundation is an IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that supports grants, etc. in support of SCCCD. The political campaign is headed by Friends of SCCCD PAC, which raised over $375,000.

If you think financial support is broad-based, you would be wrong! $157,000 was transferred from the tax-exempt foundation to the PAC. Political campaigns are required to identify their contributors. But there’s no way to know the identity of contributors to the foundation and whether there are special interests that benefit from contracts to be paid from bond proceeds, etc.

There are few direct contributors to the PAC beyond the foundation. Many are in the business of making money on projects funded by bonds. But we are to be reassured because the bond promises not to use the highly criticized “lease-leaseback” contracts. That is the very least of our worries.

Study the bond and think about the lack of openness in the way it got on the ballot and who is financing the campaign. If you do, you will surely vote “no” on Measure C.

Tal Cloud of Sanger is a business owner, political consultant and the political director of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, which opposes passage of the Measure C bond.

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