Contradicting statements made by a state staff member a day earlier, the chairman of the State Allocation Board said Thursday that the $87-million Belmont Learning Center is not ready for, and probably not worthy of, state funding.
State Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), who also heads the Senate Education Committee, said the project--a mix of public and private development aimed at bringing a new high school to downtown Los Angeles--has not followed state protocol related to competitive bidding or architectural review.
Even tentatively committing future state bond money at the next Allocation Board meeting--a plan that board staff member Lyle Smoot outlined on Wednesday--would be like "voting on a void," according to Greene.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials, who have hoped to get at least $40 million in state matching funds for the school, dismissed Greene's statements as politically inspired.
Speaking angrily in a telephone interview from the Senate floor, Greene said: "Whatever they are doing in terms of a school, we don't legally know anything about it. There are no plans in any state agency. . . . If there are working drawings, they have not been submitted to any state agency, not been checked by the state architect. . . . So what in the hell do you think I'm going to offer money for?"
Furthermore, Greene said that he will never support the project because it was not awarded to the lowest bidder, as required by state law. The school district maintains that it found a loophole that allows the more creative joint venture approach, in which it chose a developer based on creativity, not lowest price, then negotiated an arrangement in which the actual work will be subcontracted competitively.
"If a horse had feathers, I would call that horse feathers," Greene responded.
Smoot had made his comments during a surprise appearance Wednesday at a meeting of the oversight committee charged with bird-dogging expenditures from the new $2.4-billion school bond issue. He said he it would be "a tremendous shock" to him if the Allocation Board did not agree to provide some support for the project, perhaps as early as its June 25 meeting.
School district officials said Greene had been swayed by the forces that are opposing the project in Los Angeles: a union battling the chosen developer, Kajima International, over labor problems at the New Otani hotel. The Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union vehemently denies that is the case.
"If there are political forces that come together to block this school, it will be a political decision," said school board President Jeff Horton.
"It won't be because of a technicality--you didn't stamp this right, you didn't sign here--those will just be the excuses."
District development director Dominic Shambra said Greene is partially right: Only plans for site preparation have been submitted so far and the district does not expect to give the state architect complete construction plans until November. What he and other district representatives are currently lobbying for is tentative financial backing contingent on future plan submissions.