LBCC's Newly Renovated AA and BB buildings (copy)

LBCC's president, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, talks last year at the grand opening of renovated buildings at the Pacific Coast Campus paid for with money from the 2008 bond issue.

If Long Beach voters approve an $850 million bond issue (Measure LB) next month, Long Beach City College would be able to make all the improvements needed to serve students for the next 50 years and beyond, LBCC officials say.

President/Superintendent Eloy Oakley and Board of Trustees President Doug Otto said that this bond issue — the third since 2002 — would allow LBCC to control its own destiny in terms of upgrading its facilities. It is particularly needed now because the state has made it clear there will not be construction money coming to community colleges any time soon.

LBCC began a facilities upgrade in 2002, when voters approved a $176 million bond. Most of the Liberal Arts Campus at Carson and Clark had been built between 1931 and 1950, while buildings at the Pacific Coast Campus, Pacific Coast Highway and Orange Avenue were nearly as old.

“The 2002 bond of $176 million wasn’t much more than a band aid,” Oakley said. “In 2008, we asked for and won a $440 million bond, but that plan was based on the state continuing to fund construction; we expected $100 million from the state over 20 years.”

This bond issue would provide the capital necessary to complete a facilities master plan that stretches to 2041. Oakley emphasized the proposal only gives LBCC the authority to issue up to $850 million in bonds — those bonds would only be sold as needed.

If and when all $850 million in bonds is sold, it would add $25 a year per $100,000 in valuation to property taxes in the college district, which includes essentially all of Long Beach. The bond is so large, Oakley said, so the community college won’t have to go back to the residents for more money in the foreseeable future.

LBCC currently serves about 30,000 students a year. Because so many attend part-time, that translates to about 20,000 full-time students. LBCC is the largest, most comprehensive community college in this part of Southern California, Oakley said.

Otto said the Board of Trustees agreed to put the bond issue on the ballot because it is needed, there is local control over how the money is spent and because the good relationship the college has with the community gives it a good chance of success. That’s even though LBCC’s faculty has recently protested that they are underpaid.

“When you go out in the greater Long Beach community, almost everyone either has gone to City College or has a relative or knows someone who has gone to City College,” Otto said. “There’s a real connection there. In order to maintain that relationship, we have to have quality facilities. And we want to have that kind of relationship with our faculty as well.”

Oakley pointed out that money from neither this bond issue or previous bond issues can be used to pay any salaries or operational expenses. An independent oversight board makes sure all bond money goes to capital projects. He acknowledged that the perception is not a good one, though.

“We are continuing to work with our employee groups,” he said. “We’ve hired 150 new faculty in the last couple of years, and our classified staff (number) is now higher than it was before the recession… We had a new three-year contract just a year and a half ago. But the union has new leadership, and they don’t think salaries are high enough, so there’s a reopener… I’m confident we will have an agreement soon.”

Both Oakley and Otto said the real issue is the increasing number of students to be served and the rapidly changing technology and expectations. Even buildings that have had relatively recent exterior upgrades need major infrastructure improvements to add technology and accessibility.

“We’re serving more and more veterans,” Oakley said. “And we’ve seen a huge demographic shift in our city… A high school diploma is no longer enough to go out and get a job. You need college, a certification or an associate’s degree at least. And we’re committed to educating the students in this community.”

Otto said he expects more youngsters to take advantage of the College Promise program (LBCC now offers a full year of free tuition to qualified Long Beach students) to get training and prepare to transfer to California State University, Long Beach. That means more classrooms for more classes.

Ultimately, both men said, the way the college has handled past bond issues will be the best argument to vote in favor of this measure. Residents can see how the money has been spent and how the oversight works.

“For me, it’s personal,” Oakley said. “I was hired right after the 2002 bond was approved, and I was given the keys to the car with the mission to improve it. I want to finish that job and have this college ready for the next 10, 20, 50 years.”

For more information and to see the 2041 Facilities Master Plan, which shows the proposed capital projects, go to http://www.lbcc.edu/bondmeasure/.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments