There's nothing like asking for a buck to get people to notice you.
When I was elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board last year, most people had never heard of the board. In the past month, however, there has been a flurry of print about a board-supported proposal to create a landscape and lighting district. For a $1 a month from single-family property owners, the landscape and lighting district would enable us to raise about $21 million annually to fund bonds for $205 million in lighting and landscaping improvements in our 9-campus system.
Some have taken issue with our proposal. Anti-tax activists accuse us of acting illegally; others suggest we're behaving foolishly.
Let's consider the "illegality" accusation first. Assessment districts are common in California. The legality of assessment districts was upheld by a 1992 California Supreme Court ruling, spurring accusations that the spirit of Proposition 13 was being defiled. Signatures were collected to change state law. We will vote on that ballot initiative this fall. This is how a democracy works. However, demanding compliance now is like demanding that employers immediately stop hiring women and minorities because affirmative action opponents hope their initiative will pass in November.
In a representative democracy, the will of the majority is respected, and creation of our assessment district will be aborted if 50% of our constituents oppose it. To date, however, less than 2/100ths of 1% have expressed opposition. A vocal few have seduced a media ready to report a fight.
So, we're not breaking the law. But are we "stupid?" Critics have espoused scrapping the project because they considered some projects "frivolous." What they inaccurately assumed was that the board had already approved all projects. Actually, the campuses have only generated a list of projects eligible to be considered for funding. Of these--totaling $450 million--the board would choose projects we can cover with the new revenue, less than half of those eligible projects. At the top of my priorities are those projects that enhance campus safety, like lighting, and provide among other things, recreatiional alternatives to crime for community youth. In 1995, Los Angeles City College reported 114 crimes, including 12 assaults. A recent survey of our students indicated that 35% do not feel safe on campus. "Give them flashlights," some lighting district opponents jeered. There's nothing frivolous about safety.
Is building a parking structure at East Los Angeles College frivolous? Have you ever tried to park at our largest enrollment campus? A survey of the electorate reported 69% of voters surrounding East Los Angeles College supported it. Inner-city residents desire nice campuses too.
Based on an independent study of a size normally reserved for presidential elections, 54% of the voters we surveyed supported paying a $1 month for our proposed district. At our first public hearing, lasting five hours (much of it with opponents shouting down supporters of the assessment district), only 73 individuals spoke on the record against the measure. It would be foolish to conclude that "the masses have spoken their opposition" in a district of more than 4 million people.
How will I vote tonight? I will urge creation of the landscape and lighting district. In an era of declining support from Sacramento and increasing talk of slamming the doors of higher education to thousands of increasingly diverse students, I remain cognizant that these are community colleges. And as a community, we will carry the burden--the cost of a movie ticket and a large popcorn--of supporting the greatest American dream, education.