Voices for Measure S multiply, opposition stands firm

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The PTA Council adds its name to the long list of endorsements for the college bond, but a former mayor and some residents speak out against the measure.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

A group of education leaders joined the City Council in support of Measure S, the $135 million Santa Monica College bond, but skeptics hold that there are not enough guarantees the city will get what it’s been promised.

The Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council, a group of about 20 Parent Teacher Association presidents and other education activists, came out in support of Measure S last week. The college has pledged to use $25 million of the bond money for purchasing land and building an educational facility, parks and ball fields in Malibu.

Education activist and school board candidate Kathy Wisnicki, one of the PTA Council members who participated in the unanimous vote of support, said she believed the bond would benefit the entire community.

“It will provide educational opportunities for people beyond high school,” she said, “It benefits education overall, the goal of lifelong learning.”

Another prominent group of education activists, the Community for Excellent Public Schools, has also endorsed the bond. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education declined to become a partner to the bond projects, saying the proposal was too rushed.

Some residents have echoed the school board’s concern.

Resident Tom Fakehany wrote in a letter to The Malibu Times this week that the college had barely begun to spend the $160 million bond it passed in 2002. “What did the SMC trustees do with the $100 million left over from Prop U?” he asks in the letter.

Former Mayor Joan House announced her opposition to the bond at last week’s council meeting.

“What I think is shameful is that it’s not transparent,” House said, noting that the joint powers agreement between the city and the college was just approved by the College Board of Trustees last week. “It’s just too close to an election to allow good citizen airing and input.”

House also said she did not see enough of a guarantee that the city would get the parks and ball fields promised.

City and college officials replied that the city’s interests are protected by a clause in the joint powers agreement that calls for a four-member committee, two appointed by the college and two by the city, that would vote on all projects.

“There’s not a tie-vote breaker,” Council Member Ken Kearsley said. “If it’s tied, nothing’s going to happen.”

College Marketing Director Don Girard noted that the city is also protected by a clause saying the agreement can only be terminated if both parties agree, barring the college from buying up land and then breaking its promises.

Only one of the seven candidates for SMC’s Board of Trustees, Susanne Trimbath, is opposing the bond.

“What they’re doing right now is they’re borrowing money when they haven’t even spent the money they’ve already borrowed, when they have no plan of how they’re going to repay,” she said.

While some remain skeptical, others seem eager to jump on the chance to secure long-coveted land for open space. The Malibu Bay Co., Yamaguchi Family Trust and Roy Crummer have recently become willing sellers of properties at the Civic Center and adjacent to Bluff Parks, but the city would not have the money to purchase them without the college’s help.

“If Measure S passes, we will have the money to buy a crown jewel and preserve it for the children and citizens of the City of Malibu,” former Planning Commissioner Ted Vaill wrote to The Malibu Times. “There also will be a community college facility in the heart of Malibu for all of us and our children to use.”

The college must use land it buys for an educational purpose, but the joint powers agreement mandates that SMC would abide by the city’s zoning laws and also could not build a classroom facility larger than 25,000 square feet. Remaining land would be used for playing fields and open space as well as a water treatment facility, for which the college would buy land but area residents would likely fund construction and operation.

“This is very simple. We have our choice of a community learning center and ball fields or a shopping center and a hotel,” Mayor Sharon Barovsky said, noting that the Chili Cook-Off property, one of the properties for sale, is zoned to allow 125,000 square feet of commercial buildings—100,000 square feet more than the college would build.

Regarding residents’ concerns about how ball fields would be shared and how the water treatment facility would be constructed, Barovsky said, “The alternative is that the land will be sold for commercial development and there will be no ball fields to wonder about who’s going to use them. There will be no land for open space. There will be no cleaning up of pollution.

“We’ll squabble over who gets to throw the switch in the wastewater facility, but meanwhile we’ve taken hundreds of thousands of square feet out of commercial development, which is what this community wants,” she added.