The Lack of Transparency Parallels Between Bell and LACCD
Gutierrez, a community activist I know in Northeast Los Angeles. She told me a rather disturbing
story. Sources within the Los
Angeles Community College District (“LACCD”) were telling her that instead of
opening the $72 million new Satellite Campus of LA City College at the historic Van de Kamps
Bakery site (a 10-year long promise of District officials to Northeast voters),
the LACCD was looking to just rent out the buildings for money. The District officials were solemnly
claiming that they could not “afford” to open the Van de Kamps Satellite due to
the state budget crisis, which initially sounded to me to be a plausible
was instantly troubled. How could
a community college spend $72 million of capital bond funds approved under the
strict restrictions of Proposition 39 and then, having never even used the buildings for community college purposes,
start renting them out for a profit and depositing the money in the general
fund? I knew a District could not
use bond funds directly for operating costs.
How was it legal to take a bond-financed facility and convert it into a
stream of operating funds for the District? These questions in mind, I went to my first LACCD presentation
on the subject.
located in a little white church in that neighborhood. There, I listened to LA City College
President, Dr. Jamillah Moore claim that there was no money to operate Van de
Kamps, as the brand new buildings were still under construction – the District
planned to finish them with bond funds dedicated for that purpose, but the
buildings could not be “left empty” so the District would rent them out to
cover the operating costs. Moore
also told the public that an effort to qualify the District for state “Center
Status” funding had fallen through because Glendale and Pasadena Community
College would not provide letters of support.
business suits from the District, including two Board Trustees, Mona Field and
Sylvia Scott-Hayes. Vice
Chancellor Dr. Adriana Berrera stood and said that LA City College faculty “had
voted” to transfer jurisdiction over Van de Kamps out of LA City College to the
District Administration. She said
that the District was looking at leasing one building to a charter high school,
and the historic bakery building would be filled up with unemployment offices.
filled with two Board trustees, two Vice-Chancellors of the LACCD, the LA City
College President, and multiple construction consultants from the bond building
program. I later told my clients
that in all my years of experience running public agencies and advising cities
and school districts, I had never seen such a major roll out of resources for a
little community meeting. It was
overkill — and I sensed from LACCD officials’ demeanor that night that a cover
up of something was afoot — I just did not know what.
a belief that the transfer of the jurisdiction of the campus away from LA City
College had been engineered for some other purpose because the LA City College faculty
had shown overwhelming support for the Van de Kamps Satellite Campus and were
busy planning its opening classes and curriculum.
verify some of the information that LACCD administrators were putting out to
the public. LACCD officials began
to stonewall production of records that they promised that night in
Atwater. To this day, two years
later, Dr. Berrera has never produced District budget documents requested by
the Van de Kamps Coalition.
behalf of the Coalition. The
District’s written response was that my request to inspect all project records
for the Northeast Campus at Van de Kamps would result in an “interminable”
record production by the District.
Yes, they said it would be “interminable.” And they have been true to their word. To this day, substantial portions of
that public records request remain outstanding. Later, the Coalition uncovered a District memo that laid out
the strategy for dealing with the hard questions and objections of the Van de
Kamps Coalition. The option set
forth in the memo was to “stonewall” and predicted that Van de Kamps Coalition
members would “give up” as they get no support from elected officials who the District planned to lobby through back channels.
The Lack of Transparency Parallels Between Bell and LACCD
We know that in the City of Bell fraud and theft scandal,
the same pattern of behavior occurred.
A community activist asked Bell officials to produce employment
contracts to verify how much money City officials were paying themselves in
salary and benefits. This was instantly
perceived as threatening to City officials who for years had acted in the
shadows and without public scrutiny.
Bell officials created false records to cover up their salaries. That is how the scandal started: the
arrogant refusal to comply with simple public records requests and the
fabrication of misleading records.
that soon after the meeting I attended, Board of Trustees member Sylvia
Scott-Hayes scolded Jamillah Moore to stop telling the public that Pasadena and
Glendale Community Colleges refused to give letters of support to the state for
“Center Status” funding to open Van de Kamps.
adjoining districts. Pasadena
officials were willing to give a letter of support and Glendale
officials said they were sure an agreement on opening Van de Kamps could
be reached. Scott-Hayes then told Moore to refine
the story because “we do not want this to blow up in our faces.” So, the Van de Kamps Coalition
possesses email records showing an effort of a Board member to tutor Dr. Moore
how to lie to the public without being caught. Again, I shook my head in disbelief when I read this email.
and plan on how to open and operate the Northeast Campus — even with a budget
crisis. It involved LA City
College offering a high number of profit-oriented classes to cover operating
expense and low number of traditional academic classes. This plan could have been used by the
LACCD Board of Trustees to open Van de Kamps as promised to the voters, but THEY
CHOSE NOT TO DO SO.
officials refused to intervene to stop the illegal conversion of Van de Kamps
from a community college facility, arrogant Director of Facilities, Larry
Eisenberg, directed construction contractors to destroy eight classrooms in the
building and use, by my estimate, about $7.1 million of taxpayer bond funds to
convert the historic bakery building into executive office space for the
tenants LACCD contemplated. At the
time these changes were being made, there was no official Board approval or even a
signed lease in place. Eisenberg
just ordered it and the construction contractors, wanting future work with
LACCD, did it. This is not a lawful use of our taxpayer bond funds which by the
Constitution are restricted to be spent on “school facilities.”
Attorney’s office told me that “What’s happening at Van de Kamps is wrong,”
when we presented evidence to both the Civil Grand Jury and the District
Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, those institutions also failed the taxpayers
of Los Angeles County. They have
not lifted a finger for more than a year after the Van de Kamps Coalition
submitted evidence of diversion of a $72 million campus to charter high school
friends of Mayor Villaraigosa and to City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office funded unemployment
programs. Instead, the Van de
Kamps Coalition, an all-volunteer organization, was told by the District
Attorney to sue in the civil courts.
counsel, he drummed the table with his fingers and said: “There’s so much
illegality here, I don’t know where to begin.” So, I have joined with him to file two lawsuits against the
LACCD to halt the illegal laundering of bond money into general fund operating
funds which is expressly prohibited under the Constitution. I have also sued on behalf of the Van
de Kamps Coalition under the California Environmental Quality Act to overturn
the leases to the charter high school and the City of Los Angeles unemployment
programs. However, the vagaries of
civil litigation may or may not vindicate the voter’s rights in this case.
effort to squash the Van de Kamps Coalition. Larry Eisenberg at public meetings dismissed the Coalition
as “confused.” The District’s
chief enabler to the rampant illegal conduct I have observed is General
Counsel, Camille Goulet. She is
authorizing the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars of more bond
funds to a private law firm outside Los Angeles County, Gresham Savage Nolan
and Tilden, to defend against the pending environmental and taxpayer lawsuits.
mode. How long this posture can
last in the face of a growing mass of angry voters reading the LA Times
investigative series on massive waste and incompetence remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the Van de Kamps Coalition calls upon our elected law
enforcement officials to finally, and very belatedly, to intervene to end this