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AA: To Bond or Not to Bond:

Measure AA, the current Santa Monica College (SMC) bond measure, has generated a heated debate in the community. Although those in favor are, at least for the moment, in the clear majority, Measure AA is asking voters to approve $295 million; close scrutiny of both sides of the issue is clearly mandated.

SMC has qualified for major funding from the State for a replacement math and new science wing as well as upgrades to Corsair Stadium and various other improvements and enhancements to campus facilities. In order to receive said funding, SMC must match it. Thus, Measure AA, which will last up to 40 years at 12 percent interest. (More detailed information can be found on the SM City Clerk’s website.)

The Mirror spoke at length with Don Girard, Senior Director, Government Relations & Institutional Communications, and Phil Hendricks, a long-time SMC employee (payroll specialist) and the president for three years of the SMC Classified School Employees Association (CSEA). Mr. Girard supports the bond issue, while Mr. Hendricks is leading the charge to kill it. What follows are some of the key points currently being debated.

Show Me the Money

According to SMC, on average, Measure AA will cost Santa Monica renters $1.12 per month, and homeowners approximately $7.00 per month. Commercial property will also be taxed at the same rate as all other properties – $18 per month per $100,000 of assessed property value for the first year with a cap of $25 per month per $100,000 of assessed property value. Mr. Girard notes that the bond implementation does not begin across the board until 2010, by which time, “experts predict the economy will be in recovery.”

Mr. Hendricks does not particularly dispute these numbers, but claims that the tax rates will inflate after the first year. He is also concerned about “mom and pop” businesses that will feel the weight of the additional tax burden. Mr. Hendricks also asks why SMC has waited so many years to upgrade when, according to him, they have known for years that their facilities have been sub-par.

Supporters of the measure contend that the time has come for SMC to make the proposed improvements. At a recent City Council meeting, Dr. Louise Jaffe, who sits on the SMC Board of Trustees, noted: “It [Measure AA] is completing a process that began with master planning after the 1994 earthquake when the college was severely damaged. After Prop. 13 passed in 1978, local agencies were not allowed to pass local bonds. And there were no bonds passed for about 14 years then – and we passed Measure T for $23 million – so there basically [was] about 25 years, 24 years without local bonds.”

Mr. Hendricks counters that Proposition U in 2002 for $160 million and Proposition S in 2004 for $135 million have adequately filled SMC’s coffers and placed enough of a tax burden on the community.

Mr. Girard says that SM/Malibu residents currently pay 13 cents of each dollar spent for combined operation and facilities of the college. If Measure AA passes, that figure increases to 14 cents of each dollar. The rest of the college’s funding comes from outside sources: state funding, tuition by out-of-state students, state grants, student fees (parking, etc.), and donations.

Mr. Hendricks disagrees: “It’s a distortion of the facts, what they fail to mention is that the [state] tax money comes out of the pockets of the residents.”

Community College?

One of the more polarizing issues regarding the measure speaks to a larger issue regarding the nature and purpose of SMC, and community colleges (CCs) in general: who are these institutions meant to serve?

There are approximately 26,000 core (i.e., matriculated) students enrolled at SMC. There are thousands of other students who take adult and other extension or part-time classes. Mr. Girard cites an “unduplicated head count” of 8,000 students from Santa/Monica Malibu (5,000 from Santa Monica). “By definition a community college serves more than one school district,” notes Mr. Girard.

The California state average for a CC is one in 20 community members attend their local institution. The Pico Neighborhood averages one in 10, and Ocean/Sunset Parks combined average one in 11 enrolled at SMC. Also, two out of three families say that one or more family member has taken a class at SMC in the last five years.

No one can deny SMC’s ever-growing academic excellence. According to Mr. Girard, unlike other many other CCs, SMC offers a full first and second year program in all major subject areas. SMC also has the largest set of student counseling and special program services of any college in the state. A particular point of pride is a scholars program that accelerates students in their transfer objectives which now has over 1,000 students. On average, 95 percent of the students who complete the program transfer to the school of their choice.

But how does the college’s growing popularity with both local and out-of-state students affect the community?

Community Impact

Mr. Hendricks claims that apartment rents will shoot up and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will suffer. Both these statements are somewhat misleading: Mr. Girard explained that SMC has no plans to raze local apartment buildings, and that they are indeed prohibited by law from doing do. Mr. Hendricks said that the influx of out-of-town students and the more frequent turnover of their rental units would decrease availability for local residents and drive prices up, although the price increases are, due to rent control laws, limited to those units only.

Measure AA also does not in any way directly impact SMMUSD’s funding. However, Mr. Hendricks believes that the money being raised by Measure AA should go to the District, because it is in greater need of the funding. (It should be noted that the SMMUSD Classroom Teachers Association, SMMUSD School District Board of Education, and SMMUSD Council of PTAs all support the measure.)

Regarding the traffic issue, the Big Blue Bus/SMC partnership has helped decrease traffic as noted in the recent Sustainability Report Card (Santa Monica Mirror, September 25). SMC has also worked diligently in terms of other sustainability issues, but the real point here is growth. Mr. Hendricks feels that SMC’s aggressive marketing campaign has led to an over-populated student body and problems such as parking and gridlock; he suggests that students would be equally well served by the other CCs in Los Angeles.

Who’s In, Who’s Out

Measure AA is supported by the majority of SMC employees: the Academic Senate voted 47–2 in favor, Classified Employees (service workers) 23–3, and the Faculty Union and Faculty Association both voted unanimously in favor. The Associated Students also voted unanimously to support AA. SMC also recently conducted a door-to-door survey of over 10,000 registered voters, and since May, 67 percent favor the measure.

The Santa Monica City Council voted in support of the bond, as did the Board of Directors of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (unanimously). There are other supporters too numerous to mention here.

Hendricks feels that the huge network of support is mostly a matter of fearing the political fallout associated with rejecting an educational bond.

The only major community organization opposed to the measure is The Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood association. Girard notes, “They wish to say no to everything out of frustration…[with the traffic situation].”

Though many believe SMC will handle the expansion responsibly, others are concerned about traffic and overcrowding in the neighborhoods. The most critical concern in this harsh economic climate is whether taxpayers could use a hiatus from new bonding indebtedness, despite the two-year delay in the bond’s implementation. The voters will choose November 4.

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