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College Board Candidates Speak Out

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

November 3 -- Competing with a slew of propositions, measures and local and statewide candidates, five Santa Monica College Board hopefuls are trying to get the voters’ attention before they go to the polls next Tuesday.

Last month, they answered questions in a televised candidates forum being aired on CityTV and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica Education Fund.

Here are some of the things they had to say. The candidates are listed in random order.

Nancy Greenstein: The only incumbent running for reelection, Nancy Greenstein presented herself as an experienced team player and a champion for equity. Greenstein is one of four candidates sharing the Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) endorsement, a slate backed by the College Faculty Association.

Greenstein said she prided herself for casting the one dissenting vote in 2003 against eliminating time-honored vocational programs, such as automotive repair.

The students who would have enrolled in these programs were “sometimes the poorest members of our community,” Greenstein said. “Getting trained in automotive technologies allows them to immediately get a job with a decent salary.”

A lot of people go to the college for reasons other than transferring to a four-year college, she said.

“They’re coming just to move forward in their job or to be better able to work with their children,” Greenstein said, adding that the college needs to do a better job of marketing “how good we are at these other areas.”

Teamwork and cooperation came up repeatedly in her answers.

“It takes all of us working together to make a difference,” she said about on-site governance, and “I think we have to work with the neighborhood in terms of reviewing their issues… and being a partner where we can be helpful” when asked about neighborhood concerns.

Occasionally, her answers were mystifying, but always positive. “All our programs should have the highest priority,” she said when asked about the relative importance of vocational education.

Tom Donner: The college’s former Interim President and retired Chief Business Officer, Tom Donner said he could bring something unique to the Board – 30 years worth of institutional memory at a time when three board members with 50 years combined experience are stepping down.

And his answers were laced with anecdotal detail that gave the impression that the questions he was hearing were nothing new.

Donner called the vocational education cuts of 2003 “an unfortunate part of a budget triage, never an easy thing to go through,” and added that the new courses replacing them ought to prepare students for the jobs of the future.

When asked about the future of the beach shuttle lot, Donner gave a blow-by-blow recounting of the saga of the former airport shuttle parking lot.

But Donner saw traffic and parking as part of a larger dilemma.

“Santa Monica is a destination city,” he said. “People come here to work, they come here to buy goods, they come here to play, and we like to think they like to come here also to be educated.”

Donner envisioned the City and the college pooling resources to provide parking, but said that the problem won’t go away until people change their driving habits.

“Until we shift the way that we transport ourselves, until we get away from using the car all the time, we are going to continue to have this type of problem,” he said.

Andrew Walzer: Andrew Walzer lost no time slamming fellow candidate and former Interim President Tom Donner’s recent administration of the college. Walzer is also on the SMRR slate backed by the Faculty Association, which hopes to elect a faculty-friendly majority to the board.

“There’s been a history of conflict and tension between the various constituencies in the college, between faculty and administration, between administration and community groups, between administration and city government,” said Walzer.

A former SMC teacher, Walzer called for healing and “transparency and accountability… so that everyone feels that they have a voice in the decisions that are made at the college.”

He wasn’t any more sparing when he turned to the college’s relations with its neighbors and the City.

“First and foremost we need to listen to the residents,” Walzer said. “The administration does not have a good track record of doing that.

“We have to work in a cooperative fashion with the City government, which has not been past practice,” he added.

A political science professor at Los Angeles City College, Walzer said he would reduce traffic near the college by giving the students free bus passes to “get them out of their cars and into public transportation.” He’s started such a program where he works.

And if Walzer has his way here, the students will be riding clean fuel vehicles, not the diesel buses that are “poisoning our children.”

David Finkel: While David Finkel shares the pro-faculty slate with Walzer, the tone of his answers was more conciliatory. In addition to having been a City Council and Rent Control Board member, Finkel was a Superior Court Judge before he retired from the bench and became a professional arbitrator. He thinks the college could use his skills.

“What I see the need for more than anything else is mediation between conflicting interests, said Finkel. “That’s my background and that’s what I can do.”

Finkel compared the college, the community and the City to a sometimes-troubled family.

“The thing we have to do is manage that love-hate relationship that exists in every family,” he said. “There’s only one way that you can deal with problems like that and that’s to talk about it, mediate it.”

When asked whether he was “participating” in a plan like the one in a past election in which students sent out campaign materials for extra credit, Finkel, who teaches political science at the college, answered, “There’s a catch-22 in that question.”

“It’s one thing to encourage students to participate in local political affairs. It’s another thing to nudge them into taking a position on particular issues for particular candidates,” he said.

Teachers have to “be neutral” in the way they present “opportunities for participation.,” Finkel said, though he didn’t say whether his, or any other students, are getting credit for campaigning in this year’s election.

Louise Jaffe: Most Santa Monicans know Louise Jaffe as one of the founders of the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) – the group that got the City to pledge $6 million a year to the School District. It takes a fast eye to catch the lifelong-learning advocate’s credit as Script Supervisor for The Simpsons as it flashes by.

Pragmatism and good networking skills were the strengths Jaffe was selling as she explained the changes she would make if elected to the board.

“I’m very committed to building face-to-face relationships with people so that trust is established and credibility is established” Jaffe said, when asked how she would improve college governance.

“I have a record of bringing people together, trying to identify a common goal and then working towards that.”

Traffic and parking – the bugaboo of college/community relations – isn’t a parochial problem, according to Jaffe, “it’s citywide – City of Los Angeles citywide.”

And it won’t be solved without collaboration between the City, the college and the school district, she said. Preferably, using clean fuel vehicles.

Jaffe sees the college’s neighbors as its partners and beneficiaries.

Citing lectures, films, concerts and the annual Fourth of July “Celebrate America” festivity that draws thousands, Jaffe said calculating the number of locals who use the college is “like asking how many Santa Monica residents are at the beach all the time.”

Jaffe is also on the SMRR, pro-faculty slate, although she shares the CEPS slate with Tom Donner.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 7. For more information, go to www.smartvoter.org





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