Santa Paula officials are back at the drawing board and trying to decipher just where the city stands after losing funding from Measure S — and if it could win a legal battle with the Ventura County Community College District.
The city’s conundrum arrives on the heels of a recent decision by the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees to not fund a new college center in Santa Paula, a center that city officials argue was a done deal promised with the passage of Measure S, which was passed by county voters in 2002. In line with the measure, the board of trustees was authorized to issue bonds totaling $356.3 million for repairs and construction of facilities county-wide.
The trustees last week voted 3-2 to not fund the prospective campus in Santa Paula, with Vice-Chair Larry O. Miller and Trustee Arturo D. Hernandez voting to fund the campus.
Miller said Tuesday that those who voted for Measure S were misled by college officials who said at the time that the college center was essentially written into the measure. “What happened was, during the campaign that ran up to it [the vote on Measure S], the world was offered to Santa Paula with no authority to do so,” he said. Miller was the only trustee who returned an e-mail request for comment on Tuesday.
Miller’s logic isn’t echoed by Santa Paula city officials like City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who said the board of trustees isn’t taking responsibility for the college district’s broken promise. A 217-page report, titled “Broken Promise: The Story of Measure S and the Failure to Construct the New Santa Clara Valley Advanced Technology Education Center” was presented to the trustees at the April 18 board meeting where the board voted to de-fund the project.
Compiled by Santa Paula city staff, the report, which is based on documents received from the Ventura County Community College District and “other sources that document and analyze the efforts to build a new Ventura College East Campus facility using funds from the district’s 2002 Measure S bond,” according to information published by the City of Santa Paula, was drafted over the course of about two weeks.
The report is a comprehensive and close look at Santa Paula’s position regarding Measure S, including what the report deems an initial lack of stipulation during the measure’s campaign regarding the number of students with full-time enrollment needed to build the new facility. With 500 full-time equivalent students, any college is eligible to receive funding from the state, which Miller said is essential in this case. He added that Santa Paula’s existing East Campus currently serves just 200 full-time students. “If we built the $25 million facility out there and didn’t have 500 full time equivalent students, we wouldn’t be able to open the doors.”
But the district’s apparent lack of funding isn’t a good enough reason for officials in Santa Paula to give up the fight. The Santa Paula City Council will discuss legal action against the district at its next meeting, on May 1. “The question is, ‘What do we do? And how much does it make sense from a legal standpoint?’ ” Bobkiewicz said. “The district turned its back on this. You have to wonder where the accountability is.”
According to Miller, the decision to de-fund is simply a matter of pragmatism in that the college district can’t spend money that isn’t there. Once Measure S was approved, Miller said, it was the task of the district’s colleges to prioritize what was to be built and, when Ventura College allotted $25 million for the new college center in Santa Paula, the allotment was approved in the initial plans for Measure S projects.
“Then reality set in,” Miller said. “The reality is that $350 million is losing its value because the building costs are going up rapidly.” Among the causes of financial difficulties named by Miller is American businesses’ practice of selling building materials to China for high rates that most Americans aren’t willing to pay. “This is driving up all our construction prices … and that $350 million is dropping below $300 million — and we’re able to do less and less because of soaring prices.”
Miller added that he supports those who want to see more educational opportunities for the underserved residents of Santa Paula.