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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 5:36 am | Fair 42º

 
 
 
 

In Pushing for Passage of $288 Million Bond, SBCC Touts Long List of Facility Improvements

Priorities include new classroom buildings and modernization of others, but critics of Measure S question the long-term cost to taxpayers

Santa Barbara City College wants local voters to approve $288 million in bonds to finance construction projects on its three campuses, and has a priority list ranging from library renovations to a $45 million sports pavilion.

SBCC President Lori Gaskin says she was “chagrined, dismayed and disappointed” by the physical condition of the campus when she took the job in 2012.

The college’s academic achievements, including the prestigious 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, aren’t matched by the infrastructure, she says.

The Measure S bond initiative, which requires a 55 percent majority vote for approval, includes general improvement plans and a few specific projects.

According to the Nov. 4 ballot language, the bond would “maintain access to a quality, affordable education for students, including local high school graduates and returning veterans” and “prepare students for careers and transfer to four-year universities” by upgrading facilities.

Bond money cannot be used for administrator salaries and spending will be subject to an oversight committee.

“In the absence of state matching funds, which the district will aggressively pursue to reduce the district’s share of the costs of the projects, the district will not be able to complete some of the projects listed above,” the proposition states.

While school bonds tend to enjoy broad support, Measure S opponents say they’re concerned about its potential costs, specific projects that would be funded, and the fact that SBCC draws a large number of students from outside the community.

The Projects

The list of proposed Measure S projects isn’t included in the ballot language but the SBCC Board of Trustees on May 8 approved a priority list. Those projects include the following:

» Campus Center replacement: $29.5 million

» East Campus classroom and office building (to replace portables): $34.7 million

» Administration/Occupational Education building modernization: $33.1 million

» Student Services building modernization: $15.7 million

» Wake Center replacement, change to “mixed-use campus” with credit and noncredit programs: $40 million

» Physical Science modernization of east wing and lecture hall: $6.8 million

» Marine Diving Technology building modernization and addition: $2.8 million

» Sports Pavilion replacement or modernization: $45.4 million

» Library modernization and addition: $16.5 million

» Building efficiency and energy generation projects: $10.3 million

» Schott Center modernization and addition: $17.4 million

» Site improvements: $10 million

» Aquatics Facility: $10.6 million

» Swing space as temporary space during construction projects (required): $25.5 million

Total: 283,246,919 in estimated costs

The project costs include estimates for planning, design, project management, furniture, equipment and any staff training expenses, according to the ballot measure.

The Need for Improvements

“I don’t believe in piecemealing facility improvements,” Gaskin told Noozhawk.

“I believe in letting the public — the electorate — know and understand what our full facility needs are, and that’s where the $288 million came from. It’s not pie in the sky; it’s an accurate assessment of what we need to modernize this very old set of campuses.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear he won’t support a statewide schools bond — the previous one was in 2006 — and many community college districts have been passing their own bonds in the meantime, some of them for more than $400 million, Gaskin said.

SBCC’s Measure V passed in 2008 with 70 percent approval, funding $77 million in renovation and repair projects.

The big-ticket items are the Humanities building modernization, at $14.6 million, and a West Campus classroom building to replace about 30 portable classrooms.

Like Measure V, this year’s bond would focus on modernizing and renovating buildings, not expanding to attract more students, Gaskin said.

SBCC’s Physical Science building is on the Board of Trustees’ priority list for improvements and would be modernized with bond funds if Measure S is approved by voters. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The older buildings are generally run down and have heating and cooling issues, uncomfortable furniture and outdated technology, said English professor Kimberly Monda, president of the Academic Senate.

“Some days it’s almost unlivable if the HVAC systems are not working,” she said.

Many professors need screens and white boards for lessons, she said, adding that funding from the bond would enable classrooms to be redesigned so both displays can work.

“It’s funny they just don’t exist, the lighting and the spacing,” Monda said. “It’s relatively minor but it really makes a difference in how you can present material.”

SBCC trustee Marsha Croninger said the board has been focused on future planning, which is why it commissioned an Educational Master Plan and Facilities Master Plan.

The campus’ buildings range from 40 to 80 years old and have had “exceptionally heavy use,” Croninger said.

A proposed East Campus classroom building would eliminate the last 19 portable buildings on the main campus. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

“The priorities to me, it’s classrooms — replacing portables with classrooms and upgrading buildings so we can accommodate the technology that students need to know to get jobs today,” she said.

The Opposition  

School bonds and parcel tax measures generally do very well in Santa Barbara County. Since 2002, there have been 23 bond or parcel tax measures on the county’s ballots and 17 of them passed.

Bond initiatives are often unopposed — even the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association is among supporters of the SBCC bond — but Measure S has more vocal opponents.

Among those is community activist Ernie Salomon, who has hosted a local public-access TV show for 17 years. Salomon wrote ballot arguments against the bond and has been speaking at various meetings around town.  

He worked briefly with the No on S committee, which is handling the campaign, but recently quit to pursue the issue individually.

Salomon’s criticisms of the measure are threefold: the percentage of nonlocal students at SBCC, the nonacademic facilities funded by the proposed bonds, and the long-term financing costs of the bonds.

2013-2014 SBCC Enrollment Data

» Students from inside district boundaries (Carpinteria to Gaviota): 63 percent

» Students from San Luis Obispo or Ventura counties: 7 percent

» Students from California outside the tri-counties: 20 percent

» Students from out of state: 4 percent

» International students: 6 percent

Total enrollment: 30,687

Credit program students: 24,494 (80 percent)

Noncredit/continuing education students: 6,193 (20 percent)

Neighboring community college districts have higher rates of local students.

Allan Hancock College, with its main campus in Santa Maria, has enrollment of about 11,500 students per semester in the credit program and 5,500 in the Community Education program. More than 98 percent of its students are local, according to the college. Allan Hancock district voters passed a $180 million bond in 2006.

In the Ventura County Community College District, 82.7 percent of students live within Ventura County, 11.3 percent of students live in Los Angeles County and 6 percent are from other areas. The total fall enrollment is 30,679 in students on the district’s three campuses. The VCCCD voters passed a $356.3 million bond in 2002.

Anti-Measure S ballot arguments point to what they say are nonacademic projects built with Measure V money, such as La Playa Stadium track and field replacement, the new Luria Conference and Press Center at the stadium, landscaping improvements and a West Campus snack shop remodel.

Glen Freeman Mowrer, who also wrote ballot arguments against this year’s initiative, said previous bond funds were spent on items not mentioned in the ballot (such as the media center) and it could happen again.

Salomon also points to the money paid toward bond administration — $3.1 million for the $63.3 million in bonds issued so far — and swing space, the temporary space erected during construction projects.

SBCC is estimating $25.5 million in swing space from Measure S bond monies.

The Cost to Taxpayers

This $288 million bond is estimated to cost every property owner $16.65 per $100,000 of assessed value for the first fiscal year, 2015-2016.

The district estimates the rate will be the same after the last series of bonds is issued, in 2027-2028.

Property owners within the district, from Carpinteria to Gaviota, will contribute to the total Measure S debt service, which SBCC estimates at $456 million.

There’s no way to guarantee or estimate future tax rates, according to the county Auditor-Controller’s Office.

Tax rates are calculated by dividing the debt service requirement over the total amount of assessed valuation. A higher valuation would yield lower tax rates and, if the overall value drops or growth is lower than expected, the rates would increase.

Measure V tax rates have stayed at $8.50 per $100,000 for the first two bond issuances in 2008 and 2013. That accounts for a principal amount of $62 million and interest of $50.2 million, for a total debt service of $112.2 million so far.

SBCC hasn’t yet issued the last $15.2 million in Measure V bonds, which will fund the new West Campus classroom building.

Projections for Measure S have four bond sales, the last one in 2027, for a principal of $288 million and projected interest of $167.8 million.

Opponents are concerned the total cost of the bonds could be higher than expected.

Salomon says Measure S will be “inflationary to everybody” and claims supporters aren’t being realistic about the long-term costs to taxpayers since estimates are based on having the same tax rates for decades.

“This is not a vendetta about education,” he said. “We’re against mismanagement, and misspending of peoples’ money that’s getting harder to come by.”

“If people vote for this thing and know what they’re voting for, fine. If they know the consequences — the good, bad and the ugly — we believe they won’t want to.”

Supporters of the bond say these projects wouldn’t be possible without local bonds, since there’s no chance at statewide funding to pay for the necessary improvement projects.

Like a home mortgage, the bond will have immediate benefits and the community will slowly pay if off over time, said Joe Sullivan, vice president of business services for SBCC.

“We’ve been great stewards in terms of maintenance, but it degrades and ages over time,” Gaskin said. “Think about your home; the same thing happens here.”

Monda, who has taught at SBCC since 1995, pointed out the long-term effects of the deterioration.

“It’s amazing what you can get used to,” she said.

“You get used to it if you’re there, and we wanted to spend money on student services at the time of budget cuts, we thought that was more important than buildings,” she said. “But if you get to a certain point it starts to wear on the investment and looks like a lack of care.

“It makes such a difference when you go into the Humanities building now that has been remodeled; oh my goodness, this is such a beautiful facility! It makes the students feel the investment that we all have in their education.”

The Campaign

The bond measure has broad support from the local education community, including K-12 school districts whose graduates enroll at SBCC and whose high school students participate in the dual enrollment program.

Supportive ballot arguments are signed by Dave Cash, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and SBCC trustees; community activist Lanny Ebenstein; Jean Blois, a former Goleta mayor and a member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association; Victoria Juarez, executive director of Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria; and QAD Inc. president Pamela Lopker.

“City College is the primary option for local, affordable access to higher education,” supporters wrote in ballot arguments. “Nearly half of all local high school graduates rely on SBCC for higher education or career preparation and advancement. 2,000 local students in our high schools take SBCC credit courses every term.”

The initiative is being opposed by several individuals working on the No on S campaign and the Santa Barbara County Republican Party.

“A lot of people were concerned about the fact that so many students at City College are not from the Santa Barbara area at all,” local GOP chairman Gregory Gandrud said.

“People felt that local taxpayers should not be burdened with providing facilities for students who are not from this local area ...,” he said. “When property taxes go up, a lot of that is passed onto tenants, so it could actually make the cost of housing more expensive across the South Coast. ”That would impact all kinds of people.”

Gandrud said the GOP will be delivering literature to Republican voters and writing opinion pieces opposing the measure.

“A lot of people felt it was a very large blank check,” he said.

The Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County decided not to take a position on Measure S, according to party chairman Daraka Larimore-Hall.

“Being endorsed would have meant having that endorsement printed on election material and part of our calls and other voter outreach,” he said.

Both sides will be campaigning ahead of the Nov. 4 election. The No on S and Yes on S campaigns both already developed websites and have started fundraising.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Measure S Arguments

Arguments for Measure S: Santa Barbara County Elections Office by Giana Magnoli

Full Text of Measure

Full Text of Measure S: Santa Barbara County Elections Office by Giana Magnoli

Debt Service

Debt Service on Measure V and Projections for Measure S Bonds by Giana Magnoli

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