For financial and symbolic reasons, the Los Angeles Community College District plans to leave its controversial rented headquarters on West 7th Street in downtown and build a replacement on or near one of its campuses.
Officials say the most likely choices are properties that the district owns on North Vermont Avenue just across from Los Angeles City College and on Grand Avenue at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. A decision is expected as early as next month.
"Our problem is to make the wisest choice looking on to the year 2000 and beyond," said Trustee Wallace Albertson in an interview this week. "There is going to be a lot of recrimination no matter what we do. But one thing is sure: We can't stay where we are."
The cost of leasing and furnishing the current headquarters, seven floors at 617 West 7th St., has been a hot political issue as the district emerges from a financial crisis. Critics said the offices were decorated too lavishly and sarcastically called the place the Taj Mahal. Some trustees strongly dispute that label but nonetheless say the $1.25-million annual rent for the offices and parking is already too high and is expected to rise when the 10-year lease ends in mid-1989.
There are also symbolic and philosophical reasons for the proposed move. Trustees say they have been under pressure to bring the administration closer to faculty and students. And the new majority of the board who took office in July have pledged to decentralize some of the adminstration's powers among the nine campuses. That is considered more likely now as the district searches for a replacement for Chancellor Leslie Koltai, who was forced into retirement in October.
"We want to send a message to the community that the district wants to bring its governance out to the community," Trustee Wallace Knox said. "I don't expect the decision to move the district office will be the be-all and end-all. But it will be a start."
Board Vice President Lindsay Conner said that constructing a new building could help finances as well as morale. He described the current administrative offices as being pleasant but not plush, although the nickname Taj Mahal seems to have stuck. "I disagree with the perceptions of some people but the perception remains on our campuses and that hurts us as a district. The offices are not so fabulous that they are worth fighting for," he said.
However, moving the administration to a campus could have some other effects similar to those experienced by having the systemwide headquarters of the University of California across the street from the UC Berkeley campus, according to officials. The chosen campus could resent systemwide administrators as snoopy intruders. On the flip side, the other eight community college campuses might feel slighted. And no campus might want to give up space.
Issue of Size
Decentralization could give the colleges more independence in hiring and purchasing, as well as dispersing some systemwide employees to the campuses. The latter idea has led to disagreement over the size of the new building.
The current headquarters is 105,000 square feet and home to about 400 employees. The district's planning staff is pushing for a new building of at least 80,000 square feet. In contrast, some trustees, including Arthur Bronson and Board President Harold Garvin, say that 60,000 square feet would be enough because some functions like computer services don't need to be in the new building and existing campus auditoriums might be used for public meetings.
However, one knowledgable staff member said: "This board is very much concerned about the size of the office because of the political attacks. But 10 years from now, a different board may have a different view. You shouldn't preclude your options now because you have an immediate issue. You've got to think in the long-term. That's why we are looking at 80,000 square feet."
Estimates for the cost of a new building range from $6 million to $10 million. Officials stress that the construction will be a much better investment than continuing to pay rent that could soon top $2 million a year. They are unsure of how to pay for the new building but are considering a bond issue and hoping for state aid.
The district staff recently recommended purchasing a new building in Monterey Park, which is within district boundaries. Garvin said the board at first agreed because the building is close to several freeways.
But members changed their minds in favor of constructing a headquarters on land that the district already owns, in a more central spot and, for image reasons, within the boundaries of Los Angeles, Garvin said.