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Sixteen vie for college board

Contractors and the faculty union back a slate of four in the L.A. district race.

March 08, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Gale Holland and Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday's election for a majority of seats on the Los Angeles Community College District board pits four candidates backed by the colleges' faculty union and campus contractors against 12 others struggling to overcome the group's huge financial edge.

Four seats on the seven-member board are up for grabs. All trustees are elected at-large.

Incumbents Mona Field and Miguel Santiago are running for reelection as a slate with San Fernando City Councilman Steven Veres and Scott Svonkin, a senior advisor to Sheriff Lee Baca.

Together, they have raised more than $500,000 this year, including more than $235,000 from the Los Angeles College Guild State PAC, a branch of the faculty union. The group has benefited from a late burst of money from contractors working on the district's troubled campus construction program.

The other 12 candidates combined have collected just $35,000 this year. Several have sought to gain traction in the campaign's closing days by calling attention to the tens of millions of dollars in wasted college construction money highlighted in a Times investigation that concluded Sunday.

The trustees oversee nine colleges in the Los Angeles area. One of their top responsibilities is oversight of the $5.7-billion campus rebuilding program approved by voters through a series of bond measures over the last decade.

One contest is for the Office 7 seat of Santiago, a consultant to the state Assembly's Democratic majority.

A trustee since April 2008, Santiago has accepted $13,500 in donations this year from construction program vendors, including $2,500 from FTR International, a builder the district is fighting in court over a Valley College complex that needed major repairs when it opened in 2008.

Santiago's rival, Erick Aguirre, 46, of North Hills, is a former vice president of the North Hills West neighborhood council. Currently unemployed, he has worked as a booking agent for bands and has run a translation service. Aguirre pledged not to accept contributions from bond program vendors, saying it was unethical to do so.

Santiago said the donations had no influence on him. He said that if he is reelected he would continue working to ensure that college money is spent wisely.

Field faces a more crowded race for her Office 1 seat. Four candidates are competing to unseat the 12-year incumbent, a retired Glendale Community College political science instructor who has long been closely allied with the college faculty union.

One of her opponents, Derrick Mims, 40, is district coordinator for Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena), a former trustee of the college district. A former aide to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Mims was also head of fundraising for Southwest College.

Also challenging Field is Oswaldo Lopez, 36, who attended East Los Angeles College and now runs the Youth Opportunity Movement program in Boyle Heights. Gwen Walker, a former chief of counseling at Mission College, is also in the race, along with Jozef Essavi, who runs a real estate and insurance business in Canoga Park.

Lopez and Mims have each criticized Field for lax oversight of the construction program. "We need more than a caretaker," Mims said.

Field, 57, said the district had already addressed issues raised by The Times.

"No one else understands the budget and has the relationship with employees that I do," Field said. "It's going to take that kind of experience and those relationships to ensure the district survives in an incredibly tough time. We don't need amateurs."

Vying for another open seat, Office 3, are Veres, the San Fernando councilman, and Joyce Burrell Garcia, 67, a mid-Wilshire resident who taught for three years at SIAS International University in Xingzheng, China.

Veres has raised nearly $125,000 this year, with late donations coming from bond program vendors, including FTR, Sinanian Development, Cordoba Corp., ECM Group, Masters Contracting Corp. and TELACU Construction Management.

"No contribution in any way is ever going to influence a decision for me," Veres said.

Bond program contractors have also joined forces with the faculty union to try to elect another candidate running for an open seat for Office 5: Svonkin, who has collected $223,000 this year. Sending money his way in recent weeks have been TELACU, Masters Contracting and Pacifica Services, among others.

Svonkin, a member of the San Gabriel Unified School District board, said he was unaware that many of his donors worked on the bond program. "When you raise money to run almost countywide, you talk to and look to a lot of people for help," he said.Svonkin faces a crowded field of candidates. Nicole Michelle Chase, 43, of Sylmar has been an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon. She is a development and marketing consultant for the Boys & Girls Club of the San Fernando Valley.

Also running is Octavio Pescador, 40, an academic administrator at UCLA. The district, he said, is suffering from a "crisis of legitimacy" stemming from troubles with the bond program and it needs new leadership.

Another candidate, Pamela R. Bolin, who attended Pierce College, is volunteer treasurer at the Northridge West neighborhood council. She said her college major in finance would help her sort out the district's misuse of resources.

Others in the race are San Pedro elementary school teacher Lydia Gutierrez, 53, and neighborhood council members Manuel Aldana Jr. and Mark Lee.

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