As the Los Angeles Board of Education postponed a key component of a deal for a new downtown high school, state Sen. Richard G. Polanco on Monday criticized changes in the proposal as "a classic bait and switch" and called for investigative hearings in Sacramento.
Polanco (D-Los Angeles) said last-minute criticisms from an outside oversight panel mirrored concerns he raised more than a year ago when Los Angeles Unified School District lobbyists persuaded him to support the project.
"This is totally different from the project that was sold to me, that got my support," Polanco said. "I should've gone with my instincts."
At issue is a development deal to build the 5,300-student Belmont Learning Center, which would be the district's first new full-service high school in two decades. Located on a long-vacant lot near Temple Street and Beaudry Avenue, the school is intended to end bus rides to the San Fernando Valley for thousands of central city youths.
In the year since the school board agreed to enter exclusive negotiations with a development team headed by Kajima International, many aspects of the district staff's proposal have changed. The price has jumped from $60 million to $81 million, promised financing from Kajima has been rejected as too expensive, and the low-cost housing planned for the site--to appease the community--has been reduced from 200 to 120 units.
"This is not what we were led to expect," said Laurie Gardner, who testified before the board as a member of the Concerned Property Owners of Temple-Beaudry.
The controversy prompted the school board Monday to postpone its vote for a week while an outside oversight panel completes its review of the changes and of at least $5.4 million in developer fees called for under the deal.
"It is very, very important to me that we . . . do not leave the impression that things are being rushed," said board member Mark Slavkin. "But I have no concerns or hesitation about moving forward on this project."
Polanco said the State Allocations Board, which controls the expenditure of state school construction bond money, had already agreed to hold a hearing on the deal--and that he would push for a mid-November date. Members of the allocations board have expressed interest in probing the Belmont proposal because the land was purchased with bond money shifted from the failed plan to buy the former Ambassador Hotel for a school site.
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Proposed New High School
Los Angeles Unified hopes to build its first new high school in 25 years in the Temple-Beaudry area. The Belmont Learning Complex, planned for a 1999 opening, would feature a 5,300-student campus divided into seven career academies and wired for high-tech equipment. Its $65-million construction cost would be financed through a unique public-private deal that calls for low-income housing and stores on the 35 acre site.