Times community college investigation unearths shameful waste

Revelations about abuses in Los Angeles Community College District's $5.7-billion building program show the importance of voting in March 8 trustees' races.

"It's just sad."

That's what East Los Angeles College student George Escobar had to say as we looked in the direction of a new clock tower that was built crooked and had to be fixed at an additional cost of $157,000.

Sad, outrageous, scandalous, shameful. You could pick any of those words, or all of them, to describe the waste and abuse documented in a weeklong Times series about the Los Angeles Community College District's $5.7-billion building program.

Reporters Gale Holland, Michael Finnegan and others have been turning over rocks for a year and a half, looking at how billions in tax dollars from voter-approved bond measures are being spent, and worms might be crawling up your legs as you read this.

Near the formerly crooked clock tower on the East L.A. campus, heating and cooling equipment was installed upside-down. A ramp for the disabled was too steep for wheelchairs. Bonehead moves like that drove construction costs from $28 million to $43 million.

"But you should talk to my friend Nancy," Escobar told me. "She is really, really, really angry."

Escobar, 24, who's studying to be a court interpreter and takes the bus to and from school to save money, called Nancy Honorato on his cellphone.

"Meet me at the Spot," he told his fellow student.

Honorato, 21, wants to be a children's social worker. When she showed up, she was carrying a copy of The Times

"I was shocked," Nancy said. "I just think it was pathetic to take all of that time to make something that didn't even pass inspection."

She was speaking of the clock tower, but she could have been talking about screw-ups on several other campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District.

Sure, there have been solidly built, badly needed projects, too. But the new health center at Valley College had bad plumbing, cracked floors, loose ceiling panels and leaky windows.

At West Los Angeles College, $39 million was spent on buildings that couldn't be completed when money ran out.

At Valley College, a theater was renovated for $3.4 million and then scheduled for demolition when officials decided to build a new one.

At L.A. City College, $1.8 million was spent on an architectural design for a fitness center, but the school president decided instead to build the center on the other side of campus, so architects were paid $1.9 million for a new design.

Throughout this debacle, costs were often doubled because the district hired workers whose job was to hire workers. The bill for that kind of nonsense was in the millions.

It was a feast. A picnic.

And the following will not surprise you:

Contractors and labor unions donated to district trustees. Contractors and labor unions got jobs.

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