Santa Monica College’s (SMC) $295 million Safety and Modernization bond initiative — Measure AA — which will be on the ballot November 4th, has become a heated issue among residents recently.
If passed by voters, bond funds would be used to improve job and career training, provide safety and modernization improvements and increase educational opportunities at the college.
This means “modernizing” deteriorating buildings; upgrading fire safety; construction and equipping math and science laboratories; improving student training in science, technology, media, communications, computers and emerging high-tech fields; achieving energy savings; and completing earthquake repairs.
Essentially, the funds would be used to “build the infrastructure that will be available for many generations of Santa Monica and Malibu students and residents,” said Don Girard, SMC senior director for governmental relations and institutional communications.
It needs 55 percent of the vote to pass.
The measure has received numerous endorsements, including those of the Santa Monica City Council, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, State Senator Sheila Kuehl, State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, the Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs, the Santa Monica Democratic Club, and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, among others.
“This is one of the great colleges in the country and I couldn’t be more proud to back this because it is important for the country, certainly for the city, and it will improve the college beyond belief,” said Santa Monica Mayor Herb Katz. “And I’m one that lives near the college. I’m impacted by it and it’s wonderful.”
This is the third SMC bond measure in six years, and the three would total nearly $600 million.
Girard notes that the 2002 bond assisted the college in recovering from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and the 2004 bond assisted the college in a number of community partnership projects.
This bond, if passed, would complete the plan by investing in science, math and technology facilities, Girard says.
But opposition is rising to the measure.
A couple of months ago, a group called the Bond Fatigue Committee formed against Measure AA.
Phil Hendricks, the 26-year Santa Monica resident and 18-year SMC employee who formed the committee, thinks the measure is “not about serving Santa Monica students; it’s not about education. It’s about expansion and recruitment.”
Hendricks, who is currently on a medical leave of absence from SMC and who recently filed a lawsuit against the college, thinks the school has just gotten greedy.
“They’ve lost their purpose and focus,” he said.
When asked whether the lawsuit was driving his opposition to the bond measure, Hendricks said no.
“My issues with the college are personal issues, but don’t affect this in any way I can think of at all,” he said.
The neighborhood group Friends of Sunset Park is also opposed to Measure AA.
“While supporting the educational mission of Santa Monica College, the board of directors of Friends of Sunset Park has voted to oppose Measure AA,” the board wrote. “This is the first time we’ve ever opposed an education-related ballot measure.”
The organization opposes the measure for many reasons, including that there are no exemptions for seniors and there is still over $100 million unspent from the previous two bond measures.
Also, as Hendricks points out, there are currently 25,000 students coming from at least 45 zip codes outside Santa Monica, including international and out-of-state.
“No more than 4,800 students are from Santa Monica and Malibu, based on the district’s publications, and we’re paying 100 percent of the total bonds,” Hendricks notes. “We’re pretty much subsidizing 25,000 people outside of Santa Monica.”
Opponents of Measure AA also say that if it passes, “approximately 100,000 residents of Santa Monica and Malibu will have to pay out over $1 billion, including interest, or an average of over $10,000 per person.”
Santa Monica resident and attorney Susan Hartley, who is running for City Council, also opposes the measure.
“Santa Monica renters and home owners already pay very generous taxes to support SMC,” she says. “Times are hard for Santa Monica residents and are getting worse as we watch the economic news unfold. SMC has a lot of nerve coming back now and asking us for another $295 million — double the amount we gave them in the previous two bond measures.
“We must say no to SMC’s over-reaching expansion plans. Enough is enough.”
Conversely, SMC Board of Trustees vice chair Louise Jaffe, who strongly supports Measure AA, pointed out that “after Proposition 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 [in 1992] for $23 million.”
That was the first time SMC had a bond in about a quarter of a century — since 1966.
“So the college suffered some deterioration during that time,” Jaffe said. “This bond measure brings us up and is in keeping with all of the other community colleges.
“So we are doing the same thing that the other community colleges in the area and the state are having to do to try to recover from this very long period when they were unable to invest in infrastructure.”
Each of the nine Los Angeles community colleges and the three Los Angeles area community colleges have comparable bonds, Girard notes.
Carl Gettleman, a 20-year resident of Santa Monica and an SMC employee who is also on the Bond Fatigue Committee, doesn’t believe the measure is about improving education, but about recruitment and expansion that will bring traffic, congestion, pollution and a loss of liability.
“When I first got here, this was a community college,” Gettleman said. “Now it’s morphed into a real estate development corporation.”