Largely overlooked amidst the ongoing Santa Barbara City College budget debate is the fact that certain infrastructure overhauls promised to the school thanks to 2008’s voter-approved Measure V construction bond are feeling the pain and, in some cases, may even be in jeopardy. During a budget hearing late last month, City College Trustee Marty Blum, after apologetically proposing that the school not use some $6 million of its cash-strapped General Fund to finally finish the over-budget and way-behind schedule Drama Music Complex, explained, “The public needs to know that things have changed and we can’t afford to pay for this stuff right now…We need more bond money and we probably need measures X, Y, and Z.”
What specifically prompted Blum to opine was the proposal to use some $6.3 million from the school’s General Fund in the coming fiscal year to help offset the fact that the extensive renovations of the building, which is home to the Garvin Theater, is running way over budget as it comes down the home stretch towards completion. Originally, the project — which is one of the primary stated undertakings of Measure V — was going to cost $20.2 million with $9.8 million coming from Measure V and $10.4 million from the state. However, as the process rolled along, unforeseen stumbling blocks like large levels of asbestos and tricky drilling requirements due to the type of earth underneath the building, have pushed the project at least $6 million over budget and kept it roughly a year behind schedule.
Further complicating things is the fact that the state is now unable to deliver the full amount of money it pledged to provide back in 2008 when Measure V passed. (The bond generated $77.2 million exclusively for infrastructure undertakings both big and small at City College with the state signing on to provide an additional $92 million.) As a result, the promises of Measure V have had to be scaled back. All of this is to say, as the Drama Music Complex looks to get finished, more money is needed but the sources for the cash are few and far between.
According to City College President Andreea Serban, the thinking was to take some of the General Fund money (which currently enjoys more than $40 million worth of reserves) and help fill in the gap. Plus, she said, the remaining Measure V funds are already earmarked for other projects and actually $6 million short in an overall sense thanks to the state even before you consider the Drama Music building situation. However, with the school looking at millions of dollars’ worth of required budget cuts of its own this year, Blum wasn’t so sure such a move was appropriate. A majority of her fellow Trustees agreed. In fact, when the tentative budget gets put up for a possible final vote later this month, it will feature a specific option to not fund the Drama Music Complex.
So where would this leave the building? Well, to hear Serban tell it, the Measure V Oversight Committee would have to find a way to fund the final phases of construction. However, that $6.3 million (a number which Serban admits could still grow even higher) would have to come at the expense of some other currently planned project and thus, when you factor in the aforementioned $6 million overall shortfall, leave a roughly $12 million hole in the middle of Measure V’s budget. “That is $12 million worth of projects that were planned that either do not get done at all or the College saves enough money from our general fund over time to get them done or the College may consider pursuing another bond measure later,” explained Serban in a recent email to The Independent.
According to Serban, though nothing is official yet, the most likely “immediate impact” would be that the planned remodel of the Humanities Building, which already has designs in place, would be “postponed for an undefined period of time”. The next meeting of the Measure V Oversight Committee is scheduled for June 16 while the Board of Trustees are scheduled to dig into their budget hearings once again on June 9.