On a dry patch of what used to be grass across the street from Santa Barbara City College, education buffs and elected officials rallied support for a bond measure headed to the ballot this November. Amid the bustle of the first day of school, bond supporters hoisted red signs on Monday that read “Yes on S,” looking to attract voters this midterm election.
College officials say they need $288 million to replace four buildings, including a $30 million campus center, a $45 million sports pavilion, and a $34 million classroom building. Half a dozen other structures, such as the marine diving technology and administration buildings, would also undergo facelifts. Their price tags range from $2.7 million to $33 million. The college’s two satellite campuses — the Wake and Schott centers, used for adult education — will undergo $40 million and $17 million construction, respectively.
Perhaps it was appropriate that the dozen or so supporters stood on a strip of dirt because a $7.5 billion bipartisan water bond is headed for the state ballot, and the governor recently came out against a $9 billion school facilities bond, tossing the burden to renovate college facilities to local communities. In fact, the state hasn’t chipped in money to upgrade school buildings since 2006, and most community colleges have since turned to their districts for cash. The average bond amount is $240 million, said SBCC President Lori Gaskin.
City College’s buildings are aged and “well-loved,” Gaskin said Monday, and hundreds of thousands of students will attend the school over the coming decades. More than 17,000 credit students showed up to classes this week, which was similar to last fall’s enrollment. (Non-credit students are estimated at more than 3,000.) An assessment was completed before the school’s Board of Trustees approved the initiative in June, Gaskin said, and the college needs a new classroom building because it is required to remove its remaining 19 portables per a state mandate.
A previous $77 million bond measure passed in 2008 was used to redo a number of projects, including the humanities, drama, and snack shop buildings, along with other deferred maintenance projects. Critics questioned the need and academic nature of $4 million in stadium renovations, but school officials said in 2010 that the space is heavily used by many people, not just athletes. (Private donors contributed $650,000 to the projects.)
Notably, the area chapter of the Democratic Party, which has consistently supported similar school facilities bonds, has yet to endorse this year’s measure. Members discussed the matter at a recent meeting, but they delayed a vote so they could ask the trustees about the school’s overall impact on city housing, who would sit on the bond’s advisory committee, and what kind of projects would be on the docket. “We are not a rubber stamp,” said chapter chair Daraka Larimore-Hall.
In contrast to such bonds for K-12 districts, which serve virtually all kids in the area, this bond would benefit a number of students who hail from out of the district — from across the state and abroad — and has prompted a discussion about their impact on affordable housing in Santa Barbara. Last year, more than 11,000 students attended the college from outside the district, which spans from Carpinteria to Gaviota, according to college staff. The number of credit students who’ve graduated from five nearby high schools has decreased from 57 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2012.
When asked about the issue of housing, Gregg Hart, Santa Barbara city councilmember and bond supporter, jumped in and answered for Gaskin. He said affordable housing is an issue the entire community shares, and it is “not appropriate to focus on it” in this discussion. Currently, the city and the college are talking about the interlinked issues of parking, transit, circulation, and housing, Gaskin said. “There are so many moving parts to it,” she said, and added they are looking for a “holistic” approach. “We’re on it,” she said.
Endorsing the bond, the Chamber of Commerce noted transportation and housing issues inflicted by the college and suggested that the state allow community colleges to have greater control over their admissions process, prioritizing local students. California law mandates that all 112 community colleges admit every in-state student who applies. The Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association endorsed the measure in June.
A “No on S” campaign recently formed to oppose the measure. Spearheading the effort is Ernie Salomon, who has been vocal in online forums, posing the question: Why should area homeowners pay for a college that attracts so many out-of-the-area students? Salomon will host a call-in show on his public access program in late September to discuss the matter