Last week's election results have aggravated tension between the City of Orange and Chapman College, whose president has already said the college is considering a move to another location.
The mayoral and City Council elections had become campus issues. College President G. T. (Buck) Smith distributed a controversial letter five days before the election in which he outlined candidates' pro or con positions about the college.
All of those candidates who Smith said were favorable to the college lost in the election, including outgoing Mayor Jim Beam, who narrowly lost a bid for the county Board of Supervisors.
Center Is One Issue
In the aftermath, officials of the private, four-year college have expressed concern about the institution's future in Orange. Nor do the election results bode well for the college's attempt to build a proposed $10-million classroom building on campus, said Tom Beck, assistant to the college president, in an interview Monday.
"I think clearly the election, on this particular issue, was not favorable to the college," Beck said.
The proposed four-story building, to be called the Learning Center, has twice been rebuffed by the city Planning Commission, most recently at its Nov. 3 meeting. In October, the Planning Commission unexpectedly withdrew its earlier approval of the college's environmental impact report. This action, which college officials said would further delay construction, prompted Smith to say that the college was having to reassess its future in Orange.
On Monday, Beck reiterated that view, although he stressed that moving the private four-year college to another location is only one of several options that college officials must consider. Nonetheless, Beck said, "we're not only concerned about the Learning Center but about other buildings we must have in the future, including new dormitories and a new student union. We must think about growing into the 21st Century."
Beck noted that the city Planning Commission on Nov. 3 voted 4 to 1 against a conditional use permit that the college must obtain to start building the Learning Center. That negative recommendation now goes to the City Council, which has the matter on its Dec. 9 agenda.
Controversy over the Learning Center became a political issue in last Tuesday's city election of a new mayor and two City Council members. Smith mailed a letter, dated Oct. 30, "To Some of Our Friends in the City of Orange." That letter mentioned candidates in the various races. It said:
"On Nov. 4, a new mayor is to be elected, and two City Council seats are up for reelection. Inasmuch as the proposed Learning Center has now become a political issue, the outcome of the election may prove to be crucial for the future of the college and its presence in our community."
Smith's letter urged Orange residents to "support those (council and mayoral candidates) whose views you share by volunteering to help in their campaigns and then voting for their election. . . ." He made no specific endorsements.
The president's letter, however, said that mayoral candidate Jess Perez had made a public statement opposing the proposed location for the Learning Center. The letter said that council candidate Joanne Coontz "has stated that possibly the Learning Center needs to be relocated and the facade may need to be changed."
By contrast, Smith's letter noted that mayoral candidate Bob Hoyt "has taken a positive approach to the college and the Learning Center" and that council candidate Shirley Ralston "is a strong supporter of education and the college."
In Tuesday's election, Hoyt lost the mayor's election to Perez, and Coontz and incumbent Councilman Don Smith won the two council seats.
College President Smith's letter became something of a political issue in itself. At the Nov. 3 city Planning Commission meeting, the night before the election, opponents of the college's proposed building criticized Smith for sending the letter and "telling people who to vote for."
Smith, who was in the audience, went to the public microphone to make a rebuttal. He noted that his letter made no specific endorse 'We're not only concerned about the Learning Center but about other buildings . . . . We must think about growing into the 21st Century.'
to Chapman College's president
ment of any candidates. Smith said he was only trying to inform friends of the college of the viewpoints of the candidates. Smith also said he has never "threatened" to move Chapman. He said his comments that the college might have to consider moving were not intended to be a "threat."
After the Planning Commission meeting, one supporter of the college, speaking off the record, said, "We'll just wait now for the election results (in the council and mayor's races)." That college advocate indicated that election of "friends" of Chapman would resolve the impasse in winning approval for the Learning Center.