The videos alone cost more than $350,000 and include aerial footage shot from chartered helicopters. "Upbeat music and graphic effects" were added at the request of district officials, who wanted the productions to be "more lively and entertaining," a video producer wrote in an internal e-mail.
The district paid still photographers up to $175 an hour to take pictures of trustees at construction award banquets.
It hired an expert in feng shui, for $250 an hour, to give advice on harmonizing new buildings with their surroundings.
To oversee wind energy projects, officials hired a public relations specialist with almost no experience in renewable power, at an annual salary of $135,000.
In an e-mail to a colleague, Tony Fairclough, a consulting engineer on the district's energy projects, shared his dismay over the hiring. He wondered why managers of the construction program would "employ people and then dump them in a position for which they have no qualifications."
"It makes me angry," he wrote, "that we waste money like this."
An unwieldy system
Many share responsibility for the waste, starting with the seven members of the district's Board of Trustees, part-time elected officials with no expertise in construction.
The board relies heavily on guidance from contractors that stand to profit from its spending decisions. A management consultant urged the trustees last year to hire an independent construction advisor to identify the public's best interests; they rebuffed the idea.
Complicating matters is an unwieldy system of power-sharing that dilutes accountability.
Eisenberg oversees the construction program for the board and the college system's chancellor. But the presidents of the nine colleges wield tight control over bond money allocated to their campuses. They can veto projects and switch plans, and often do.
Faculty and staff unions also have a say on every project.
Further undercutting fiscal discipline is the sheer volume of money at the district's disposal — nearly $6 billion. Officials changed plans, discarded designs and killed projects in midstream in part because they could. There was more than enough money to paper over mistakes.
Eisenberg once joked about the challenge of spending up to $31 million a week.
"There was a movie some time ago about someone giving money, and they had to spend it in a certain amount of time," he told a business group in downtown Los Angeles in 2009. "Well, they didn't know us."
Still, the district can point to many benefits from the $2.6 billion spent thus far. At East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, students work at banks of shiny iMac computers in a new science building. At Valley College in Valley Glen, the swim, diving and water polo teams practice in a new Olympic-size pool.
On every campus, crews in hard hats are bulldozing debris and pouring concrete. By 2015, the district hopes to have opened more than 80 new buildings and to have renovated dozens of others.
Of the seven trustees, only one — board President Georgia Mercer — was willing to discuss the program in depth.