Building and Controversy at Peralta College District in ‘06

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday January 05, 2007

The four-college Peralta Community College District began the year in the last stages of construction of the newly-named Berkeley City College, with controversy over its last series of construction bonds, and with plans to present a new set of facilities bonds. The year ended with Berkeley City College built, occupied, and with controversy swirling over district bond measures. 

A month-by-month review of how the Daily Planet covered the Peralta Community College District in 2006 follows. 



District officials announced that Vista College would have a new name when it opened its new, $65 million campus in downtown Berkeley later this year: Berkeley City College. The name change came at the request of the Vista administration, after a year-long survey of students and faculty groups at the college, as well as in the three communities served by Vista. 



In a renewal of a testy debate over Measure E bond expenditures that went throughout 2005, Peralta trustees narrowly (4-3) approved a $2.3 million contract to construct 1,400 new bleachers, put in additional lights, and revamp toilet facilities at the Laney College Stadium.  

In another carryover from a contentious debate that consumed trustees in 2005, a chancellor’s office report concluded that the controversial District Office of International Affairs was not spending “lavishly” on foreign meals, accommodations, and travel, rebuking charges that had been leveled by Trustee Marcie Hodge. 

Hodge had used publicity of her criticisms of the International Affairs Office and its director, Jacob Ng, to fuel her campaign for the District 6 Oakland City Council seat against incumbent Desley Brooks, and her complaints led to a shouting match between trustees at one 2005 trustee meeting, as well as a later censure of Hodge by fellow trustees. 

When the chancellor’s report was released, Hodge told the Planet that “questions still remain” about the International Affairs Office, but on the night that the report was formally presented to trustees, Hodge sat silent and asked no questions, and the controversy died.  

Also in February, trustees authorized a new $390 million facilities bond measure to be put before area voters in the June election. The measure drew criticism from one trustee—Nicky Gonzalez Yuen—who complained of lack of detail in the list of bond projects, and said he feared that it would become a “$390 million slush fund.” 



Following a request from the State Community College Chancellor’s office as well as from representatives from Compton, a cautious Peralta Board of Trustees gave Chancellor Elihu Harris limited authority to explore the administrative takeover of the troubled Compton Community College District, but only after inserting language giving the board a greater say in how that administrative takeover would take place. The move was intended to forestall the closure of Compton College following the loss of its accreditation.  



Trustees were told this month that construction of the new Berkeley City College in downtown Berkeley is 85 percent complete with a tentative opening date scheduled for mid-July. 



Chancellor Elihu Harris announced this month that Peralta was temporarily stepping back from its attempts to rescue the Compton Community College District after Southern California districts indicated they would be available to provide administrative oversight. 

But the Compton controversy spilled over into another local issue, with both the Peralta trustee president and the president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers severely criticizing the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the statewide organization that revoked Compton’s accreditation and had threatened to revoke Peralta’s. Peralta officials joined the California Federation of Teachers and the California Community College Academic Senate in calling for changes in the commission and its methods of accrediting state community colleges. 

The district released one piece of bad news in May, announcing that due to budget cuts, the Laney College Children’s Center was closing its infant and toddler day care program effective the end of the 2005-06 school year. Laney students with children at the center, as well as Laney faculty members, complained that the notice had not come in time for parents to make other arrangements, and said the closure would have a devastating effect upon student-parents who might have to drop out of school because they had no other place to take care of their children. 

But the district received good news in May when a federal civil jury in Oakland ruled against a lawsuit brought against the district by former Vista president John Garmon, rejecting Garmon’s claims of reverse discrimination, gender discrimination, and retaliation when the college failed to renew his contract in 2004. 



Peralta’s $390 million facilities bond measure—Measure A—was passed overwhelmingly by voters in the June election. 



Trustees quickly followed up on the Measure A victory, approving a new five-year construction plan that committed $137.8 million of the Measure A Peralta facilities bond money. 



The race for the Area 7 Peralta trustee seat began heating up, with community college bond consultant Abel Guillen providing a stiff challenge to incumbent Alona Clifton. Clifton’s campaign ran into trouble when the candidate was forced to file a year’s worth of delinquent, semi-annual campaign finance disclosure reports with the Alameda County Registrar’s Office only days after a newly-formed citizens group had filed a complaint over the issue with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. 

Late in the month, with hallways and classrooms still filled with construction tools and rubble and workers only taking a short break to make way for brief speeches and a hurried open house public tour, Peralta cut the ribbon on the new Berkeley City College campus a day before fall semester classes were scheduled to begin. 



Interim Vista College President Judy Walters was named the first president of the new Berkeley City College, but only by one vote among Peralta trustees (4-3). 



Peralta’s Measure A and the 2005 abortive Peralta lands development deals surfaced as the key issues in the Area 7 trustee race, with challenger Abel Guillen charging that Peralta had no comprehensive plan for spending the bond measure money, and criticizing the plan—later dropped—for Oakland developer Alan Dones to produce a development plan for Peralta and Laney College property. 



Reports of trustee candidate Guillen’s charges about the Peralta bond money had raised significant questions about exactly what plan Peralta had to spend the Measure A funds. A Planet investigation revealed considerable confusion over whether or not trustees committed themselves to a specific list of bond projects when it approved the Measure A bond language in February. 

Meanwhile, Guillen defeated Clifton in the November election, replacing her as the Area 7 Peralta trustee. 



The controversy over the Measure A bond money continued, with Laney College faculty members meeting with Peralta General Services Director Sadiq Ikharo to clarify how much of the bond money was actually being committed to Laney. After reports in the Daily Planet of significant errors in the list of Measure A projects posted on the district’s website, the list was pulled with no explanation. 

The Planet reported that Peralta appeared to be out of compliance with the formation of a Measure A citizen oversight committee, which was supposed to be in place 60 days following the certification of the bond election. Meanwhile, the Planet also reported that the former bond counsel to the Peralta Community College District believes the list of projects in the Measure A bond ballot statement last June might not have been specific enough to have qualified the measure under the Proposition 39 requirements under which it was passed, leaving the bond measure vulnerable to lawsuit. 

In its first meeting following the election of trustee Bill Withrow to the board presidency and the swearing in of new trustee Abel Guillen, Peralta trustees narrowly (on a 4-3 vote) sent back to district administrators $17 million of a $5 million Measure A bond project authorization request after complaining about details missing from the request papers. 

Meanwhile, the Planet reported a story published in the East Bay Express that a federal grand jury investigating corruption in Oakland politics has now expanded that investigation to look into Oakland developer Alan Dones’ dealings with Peralta.