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What I Say About Frank Gruber

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The College Bond and the College Board

By Frank Gruber

It's a sign of how upside down Santa Monica politics have become when three of four candidates the Chamber of Commerce endorsed favor Measure S, the $135 million Santa Monica College bond, but only two of four candidates Santa Monicans for Renters Right (SMRR) support it.

What some politicians don't control, they don't care for.

I'm voting for Measure S because when I retire I want the next generation to be productive enough to pay my social security benefit. If the federal and state governments won't do their share to invest in the future, then we have to do ours.

Measure S is the most important vote on the local ballot.

I have heard several arguments against it, all of which are specious.

  • One reader sent me an email saying that the College's using the Prop. 39, 55 percent approval threshold for projects with mixed educational and public uses violates state law. But last summer, when I first wrote about the then-proposed bond, I researched state law and found that the Education Code encourages community use of instructional facilities. The municipal/college pool is a perfect example of this.
  • Another friend, a homeowner in Santa Monica, told me that she didn't want her taxes to increase to build facilities in Malibu. This is a bad argument for several reasons. First, it's not fair. Malibu residents have been paying taxes for years to build the campus in Santa Monica, a campus that generations of Santa Monicans have used.

Second, Santa Monicans are always complaining about traffic, especially traffic the College "creates" and traffic on PCH. Locating a campus in Malibu, mostly to serve students from there, will reduce student commuting between Malibu and Santa Monica.

Third, it's cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face time if you want to forego the benefits in educational opportunities, cultural facilities and public recreation the bond will create in Santa Monica because some of the few bucks you will be paying a month go to Malibu.

Fourth, you might win the lottery and move to Malibu and want to take an extension course at the Malibu campus.

* Julie Lopez Dad (President of the Democratic Club, if you can believe it) wrote an op-ed in the Mirror opposing the bond for several reasons, but mainly because there was "no need" for the bond and "neither academic nor vocational education" required it. But what Dad and many others don't realize is that much of the bond money will go to pay for facilities needed to reflect changes in curriculum the state and the University of California have mandated, such as new requirements for arts and drama, and physical education. Plus, the College is creating a program in early childhood education and a new center for training in emerging technologies.

* Richard Bloom opposes the bond for now (as opposed to when?) because as yet the City and the College have not been able to agree on the terms of their "partnership" to operate joint facilities. But why should he expect a full agreement before the two entities have decided exactly what they want to buy and/or build? Bloom opposed the Madison Theater, one of the projects the bond will fund; should we wait to build this needed facility until he approves it?

* Ken Genser says he is "neutral" on the bond, because he says he is concerned about more "unilateral action by the College," and that he's going to vote for "resident-friendly" college trustees. Genser, along with Bloom, explicitly opposed the College's 2003 bond issue, so I wonder how neutral his neutrality is, and I didn't know that college trustees had a fiduciary responsibility to be friendly to residents who oppose the College's existence. The College has as much standing to control its destiny under state law as the City does, and I never noticed that Genser ever asked the College's opinion when voting on the City's capital budget.

So vote yes on S.

* * *

Of all the votes in this election, the one for the College Board is perhaps the most perplexing. After years of stability on the board, only one incumbent is running, and the challengers have adopted an untypical antagonistic stance toward the administration of the College in general and President Piedad Robertson in particular.

The incumbent, Margaret Quinones, often rubs people the wrong way. I can't tell you how many people have shrieked when I ask them their opinion of her. It's also instructive that Quinones did not receive an endorsement from SMRR, where she had long been endorsed, and Quinones gets a chutzpah award for falsely claiming in advertisements that all members of the current board endorsed her when board member Annette Shamey certainly didn't. ("LETTERS: Misleading Voter and Family Support," October 26, 2004)

However, the few times I've met Quinones she's been charming, and the SMRR vote was heavily influenced by the presence of many members of the College faculty union, who consider Robertson to be a union-buster and Quinones to be Robertson's tool.

Frankly, I am swimming in deep water here because I have never covered the meetings of the College trustees, which until recently were rarely the scene of controversy. So I can't report on the validity of the depth of feeling against Quinones I've often heard.

The challengers -- the principal ones being Susan Aminoff, Rob Greenstein Rader, and Doug Willis, who did receive the SMRR endorsement, as well as endorsements from the faculty union -- are all conscientious people. To some extent they are all running against Robertson on the grounds that the administration is imperious and made bad decisions when it cut various vocational programs in the face of budget cuts.

My problem with the challengers, of which at least two are sure to win anyway, is that when I studied the programs the College cut, the cuts, all in all, made sense. I'm not saying that Robertson handled it all with grace, but the job of administrators includes making tough decisions, and in the budget crisis the College faced two years ago, tough may have been more important than graceful.

I'm also concerned about the faculty union having too much control, just as I worried about the board becoming too politicized when Nancy Greenstein, co-chair of SMRR, was elected to the board two years ago. That now appears to be the case, although not necessarily because of Greenstein. The reason we elect separate boards of education is to insulate institutions of education from political and other pressures that might compromise the mission of educating people.
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