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Community College Bond Measure Seems Headed for Victory

Education: Official says, 'We did everything right' in promoting the record $1.25-billion proposal.


Proposition A, the Los Angeles Community College District bond measure, appeared to be winning by a substantial margin, according to early results Tuesday.

The $1.25-billion measure was not only the largest such proposal ever put to voters by the district, but also the largest local bond measure ever offered in the state community college system.

"This shows people are ready to reinvest in community colleges," said Georgia Mercer, president of the board of trustees. "They understand the critical role we play in higher education and work-force education. They got it."

Said Trustee Kelly Candaele: "I think we did everything right in terms of this campaign. We organized early, we raised enough money, we did a very precise targeting of mail, we got endorsements from the right people."

The district has failed in previous attempts to get such a measure passed. But, emboldened by changes in law that lowered the required approval level for bonds from two-thirds to 55%, district leaders decided to try again, this time going for high stakes.

Rather than fix the district piecemeal, they decided to seek the maximum amount the law allows to clear up as much of their construction backlog as possible in a single shot.

Hence the measure's high price tag. The proposition represents the first effort at wholesale renovation of the nine-campus district, much of which was built in the 1960s and '70s. Lack of parking, overheated classrooms, poor equipment and general ugliness are the subject of frequent complaints at the colleges.

The bond proceeds would be used to repair deteriorating buildings, furnish and construct classrooms, equip laboratories and libraries, retrofit buildings for earthquakes, improve lighting, add parking facilities and acquire real estate to relieve overcrowding.

Among the projects planned are a parking garage at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, a health sciences building at Valley College, and a science and technology complex at City College. The latter would help that school reestablish its nursing program.

The district is one of the two largest community college systems in the country and serves about 110,000 students from Wilmington to Woodland Hills. The nine campuses under its wing are East Los Angeles, Valley, Mission, Pierce, City, Southwest, West Los Angeles, Harbor and Trade-Technical colleges. A disproportionate number of low-income high school graduates and minority students from urban areas end up in these colleges.

The bond issue may be paid off over 40 years and could cost homeowners as much as the $25 per $100,000 valuation that is the legal limit for such measures. But depending on when the bonds are sold and other factors, district officials calculate, they may cost as little as $14 per $100,000 valuation.

Buoyed by positive early polls, district leaders promised a grass-roots campaign that would engage students and faculty. They hoped to enhance their credibility with voters by touting accountability measures in the proposition.

Six candidates, meanwhile, were vying for two contested seats on the district board. (Candaele, an incumbent, ran unopposed). The two other at-large seats were left vacant by trustees who chose not to run again.

In the race for the seat vacated by Beth Garfield, public affairs director Michael D. Waxman had a comfortable lead over rival Dan Rosales Jr., field deputy to L.A. City Councilman Alex Padilla.

In the contest for the seat vacated by Althea Baker, Samuel J. "Joey" Hill, aide to state Sen. Kevin Murray, had a narrow edge over the other leading candidate, college instructor Nancy Pearlman. University professor Deborah Le Blanc and producer Mark Gonzaga were trailing.

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