Though the view of the ocean from Santa Barbara City College will never grow old, administrators say its buildings have. To spruce up existing structures and swap portable classrooms for permanent ones, the Board of Trustees voted last month to place a $288 million bond measure on the November ballot. The move comes six years after roughly 70 percent of voters approved Measure V — a $77 million measure — to renovate a host of buildings and reconstruct the bridge connecting the west and east campuses. But more work needs to be done, college officials say, and the latest bond offering geared up two weeks ago when campaign mailers landed throughout the district.
If passed, Measure S would require homeowners to pay $16.65 per every $100,000 of their homes’ assessed value. That translates to approximately $160 annually for a $947,948 home, the median cost for a single-family home on the South Coast, according to the UCSB Economic Forecast Project. In addition to replacing 19 portables — per instructions from the California Coastal Commission — other proposed projects include replacing or modernizing the campus center, sports pavilion, aquatics facility, and buildings at two satellite campuses. Cost estimates for each range from $10 million-$45 million, according to a recent board agenda that outlines the possible projects. The college is still “wringing blood from a turnip with Measure V,” said SBCC President Lori Gaskin, and V’s last project is construction of a West Campus Classroom and Office Building, which replaces 32 portable classrooms.
The community college has a number of accomplishments it can boast. Last year, it was named number one in the nation, and about 1,000 of its students transferred to a UC or a Cal State university. Another 2,600 students transferred to a private or out-of-state four-year university. And a portion of area kids reap the benefits. Of the four nearest high schools, 43 percent of graduates enrolled at SBCC in 2013. Further, 2,000 current area high school students participate in its dual enrollment program each year.
But the issue of out-of-towners who flock to SBCC has become increasingly charged and skirts the ever-present problem of affordable housing. Of the 30,687 unduplicated students who enrolled at SBCC last year, 43 percent came from out of the district, including out of the state (4 percent) or overseas (6 percent). The majority are Californians. The college caps its international population at 8 percent, although that’s 3 percent higher from several years ago.
State law mandates that all of California’s 112 community colleges admit all in-state residents. But bonds to modernize and upgrade facilities are paid by property owners in the areas nearby. Among community college districts, 79 percent have run bonds, and the medium bond measure is $240 million, said Gaskin. “The community college structure across California is not just for one community,” Trustee Marianne Kugler explained. “It is to raise the level of education across the state.” According to SBCC spokesperson Joan Galvan, the breakdown of out-of-district students five years ago is not readily available.
But critics argue it’s unlikely that high school students flock to other community colleges at the same rate that they do to SBCC. “If the state wants to kick in money, fine,” said Ernie Salomon, who hosts a public-access-channel show. “But I’m not going to [voluntarily] pay for these bonds.”
At the crux of the issue is the available low-income housing. The rental housing market is below a one percent vacancy rate, which has tightened considerably in the past five years, said Robert Pearson, Housing Authority executive director. “That’s the lowest I recall it in my history,” said Pearson, who has worked for the city agency for 33 years. In 2010, the vacancy rate was 3 percent, according to the UCSB Economic Forecast Project. The drop can be in part attributed to City College students looking for cheap housing, Pearson said.
Historically, community college officials have stated it is not their mission to provide housing for students. That has changed somewhat, and now 11 community colleges offer some housing to students. In Santa Barbara, the issues of housing and transportation — the area surrounding SBCC is known for high congestion — have come up several times in the past several decades, but solutions failed to materialize. City policies encourage City College to address affordable student housing, but the move must come from the college.
But nothing is on the table right now, Gaskin said, although it would be her dream to create a “community of scholars” who live in pods across the community. A plethora of available — not affordable — housing is in Isla Vista, and that’s a draw for students, she added. Last year, 378,618 passengers rode the two city bus lines that travel between SBCC and Isla Vista. In 2009, that ridership was 101,756 fewer. “I don’t necessarily want that to be the place our students gravitate for a host of reasons,” said Gaskin.
Whether support exists for the bond measure will be seen in November, though two phone surveys conducted by an independent firm indicated relatively high approval ratings. And last month, the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association endorsed it, citing the importance of education. “If we want the best City College in the United States, we have to pay for it,” said Joe Armendariz, its executive director. “And we have to accept that other people [want to come].”