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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Money Issues, Headquarters Dominate Race : Community Colleges : Three at-large seats will be filled on the board that runs Los Angeles Community College

April 11, 1993|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER / Compiled by Times Researcher NONA YATES

Budget cuts, fee increases and a site for administrative headquarters are dominating the campaigns for three seats on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees.

Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed increasing fees for the state's 107 community colleges to $30 per unit for most students next school year. That would be $900 a year for a full-time student, a 650% increase.

The present cost is $10 a unit, but by law no one pays more than $120 a year. Wilson would remove the limit.

Additionally, most students with bachelor's degrees would be charged $105 per unit.

The governor suggested the increases to the Legislature to help make up some of the $301-million cut he proposed for the colleges in his preliminary 1993-94 budget.

Officials of the nine-college Los Angeles district say Wilson's proposals would shut the door on higher education for many of their 115,000 students, two-thirds of whom are members of minority groups. About a third of the students had annual household incomes of $12,000 or less, according to a 1988 survey.

Even the new fees would not offset the expected loss of state money, so the college plans to slash budgets. Planned cutbacks range from 5% at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College to 12% at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley.

The issue of money has been prominent in the campaigns, even though the seven local trustees have little influence over the state budget.

Closer to home is the district's long, painful search for a permanent home for its central staff. The board's recent 4-3 vote to sell, at a loss, a building it bought three years ago in favor of leasing a site downtown has drawn fire from several candidates.

Leasing will cost the district less than operating its own building but will leave it looking for new quarters in 12 to 20 years.

Its potency as an issue has been reduced by the fact that all three incumbents facing election opposed the switch.

Each seat, which the district refers to as an office, is filled separately but all the elections are at-large. Voters throughout the district can cast one ballot for each office.

Here is a race-by-race report.

Office No. 2

In the hottest race, the incumbent has become an issue.

Challengers to Patrick Owens, who has held the office for four years, seek to paint him as being ineffective and even destructive.

"I believe that Pat Owens is not an effective voice for speaking out for the community colleges--not in Sacramento and not with the public in Los Angeles," said candidate Elizabeth (Beth) Garfield, an attorney and the wife of board President Wallace Knox.

The irascible Owens is often at odds with the college staff and other board members.

Garfield and Joseph Ortiz, who heads a public relations firm in the San Fernando Valley, are believed to be front-runners among his seven challengers. The large number of candidates makes it unlikely that anyone will earn the necessary 50% of the votes plus one, pointing to a June 8 runoff.

Garfield, who specializes in labor relations, has the endorsement of the AFT College Guild, an important factor in board elections, and of several other unions. She also is backed by several prominent Democratic elected officials, including Reps. Howard Berman and Julian Dixon, state Sens. Teresa P. Hughes, Herschel Rosenthal and David A. Roberti, and Assembly members Barbara Friedman, Terry B. Friedman, Burt Margolin and Marguerite Archie-Hudson. Her supporters worry privately that her marriage to Knox will become a big issue, especially if she gets into a runoff with Owens.

Ortiz is endorsed by several civic and business leaders and by Democratic and Latino groups, including the Mexican-American Political Assn. and the district's Latino Faculty Assn.

Forced to drop out of high school to help support his family, Ortiz resumed his education while in the military and he said he has devoted his entire career "to working to open up opportunities for others." He calls for stronger business-college partnerships to "place a lesser burden on taxpayers."

The maverick Owens is counting on a network of alumni clubs he has organized to help his campaign and the district's funding prospects in Sacramento.

A longtime teacher at Trade-Tech, he cites as his major accomplishments putting on the district's annual spring picnic and organizing opposition to some of his colleagues' proposals.

"The guild wants my butt, let's make no mistake about it," Owens told a candidates forum. He criticized the union's endorsement of Garfield.

Owens' other challengers include Cal State L.A. student Ronald R. Williams, USC student Gabriel A. Orosco and Chatsworth High School senior Josh Addison Arce.

Attorney Eric C. Jacobson, who pledged to improve the district's vocational education programs, and educator Maria Escalante, who proposed a series of tax increases to improve college funding, also are running.

Office No. 4

Incumbent Lindsay Conner, endorsed by the guild, has drawn fewer challengers.

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