YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


College Chief Takes Blame for Forfeiture of $4.7 Million

Education: Mission President William Norlund says he erred in not seeking community input earlier for campus expansion. Now funds must be returned.


SAN FERNANDO — Mission College President William E. Norlund apologized to area residents Saturday and accepted blame for the college's forfeiture of $4.7 million in state funds earmarked for expansion of the Sylmar campus.

Norlund, speaking to more than 100 residents and activists at a forum in City Council chambers, said he should have solicited opinions regarding the proposed expansion early enough to meet a Dec. 30 deadline for using the funds. That deadline cannot be met now, he said.

"I apologize to the community for not involving them from the beginning," Norlund said. "We had a road to follow, and we took the wrong direction and I apologize for that."

The apology came during a community forum hosted by the Los Angeles Mission College Collaborative, an association of Latino grass-roots organizations and elected officials serving the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Collaborative members wanted to know what mistakes were made to cause a forfeiture of the $4.7 million that was meant for four new classroom buildings and 1,000 additional parking spaces. The new facilities would help meet the needs of the school's 6,000-student body, which is projected to double by 2003.

Several forum participants said they were particularly irked about the forfeiture because the college serves a predominantly Latino student population.

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said college administrators had violated the community's trust.

"The community was not fully engaged [in the project]," he said. "Norlund did not go to the community and work with each organization to build consensus."

Alarcon all but called for Norlund to step down: "We need to create a new administration at the community college so we can rebuild."

Norlund wasn't the only education official at the session to acknowledge a lack of communication between the college and the community.

Kelly Candaele, a Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees member, said the board should have played a more active role to make sure Mission officials would secure funding for the expansion.

"Our primary concern is expansion of educational opportunities for our students," he said. Many residents, community leaders and elected officials appeared ready to move forward with a new expansion plan.

"All the issues have been brought to the table, every rock has been lifted, we know what our needs are; now it is time to look at the global picture and move forward," said Maria Castillo, field deputy for county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

"No one is opposed to expansion. The question is how do you expand," she said. "We are willing to start the process all over again."

In a letter, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) said he will introduce a bill in the coming session requesting grant money for the college.

College officials had hoped to purchase 30 acres occupied by nearby El Cariso Golf Course for the new buildings and parking spaces. A new golf course of equal size would be built on land straddling the Pacoima Wash, southeast of the Cariso course.

That plan, however, drew sharp criticism from golfers, hang gliders, equestrians, ballplayers and community groups who use the wash as a playground.

By the time college planners heard the opposition, school officials realized they would be unable to meet the state-imposed Dec. 30 deadline to use, or lose, the $4.7 million.

Los Angeles Times Articles