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Voters OK College District Bond

The 64% approval is the electorate's second show of support for improvements at the nine-campus L.A. system in two years.

May 22, 2003|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters approved a $980-million facilities bond for community colleges this week -- by a nearly 2-1 margin -- despite the ailing economy and the passage of an even larger bond measure two years ago.

The voters' 64% endorsement of Measure AA -- 9% more than required -- signals the esteem in which local community colleges are held, officials at the Los Angeles Community College District said.

"People are recognizing the important role of community colleges," said Warren Furutani, president of the nine-campus district's board of trustees. "They're not junior colleges; they're not high schools with ashtrays; they're not a consolation prize" for those who didn't get into four-year colleges.

Instead, Furutani said, the public sees community colleges as vital to upward mobility. "If you ask the question [in a public meeting], how many of you have gone to a community college and feel you owe them a debt of gratitude, the hands shoot up and people start telling stories," he said.

Darry Sragow, the political consultant who ran the campaign for the district, said the campaign's polling showed a high degree of goodwill toward community colleges. Sragow said voters in focus groups likened the community college system to the GI Bill after World War II, which took many veterans from the ranks of the poor into the middle class by providing money for college and job training.

A poll by the campaign in April showed that 71% of respondents agreed that community colleges are needed "more than ever" due to rising four-year college tuition and the state's budget deficit.

The bond will fund safety, security and environmental improvements at the campuses, as well as construction of new computer technology centers and classrooms.

The bond campaign had no organized opposition. Some members of Valley Group, an advocacy group focusing on San Fernando Valley issues, had called a news conference to oppose the measure, but did not raise funds or form a campaign committee to fight the bond.

This was the electorate's second show of support for improvements at community colleges in two years. In 2001, voters passed Proposition A, a $1.2-billion bond for community college facilities. Proposition A passed by a 67%-33% margin in April 2001. The district's polling for this week's election found that 13% of Los Angeles County voters did not remember the 2001 bond measure.

Proposition AA will add an estimated $11.45 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to a homeowner's property taxes.

Although Los Angeles voters in the past have rejected community college bonds, Sragow said the Proposition A and Proposition AA campaigns were more effective at targeting key voters.

This year's bond campaign focused on those more likely to vote in off-year elections, especially Latinos, African Americans and Democrats, who are more likely to support community colleges, which primarily serve minority students, Sragow said.

The voter demographics of Tuesday's election were of some help to the bond campaign, with a City Council race in the 10th District, where most voters are African American, and a school board race in the heavily Latino district stretching from northeast Los Angeles to South Gate.

The campaign also mailed absentee ballot applications twice to likely community college supporters who had requested absentee ballots in the past. The campaign spent roughly $600,000 on the election, Sragow said, with labor unions and contractors to the community college system comprising the largest donors. The spending amounted to about $5 per vote.

Board Chairman Furutani hopes the decisive election win will persuade lawmakers to be more generous to the community college system as final budget decisions are made. After voters have shown how strongly they back community colleges, Furutani said, "I hope it's a message the Legislature and governor get."

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