"And our kids are paying for it," he said, "by not having the facilities they deserve."
The problems stem largely from the trustees' decision in 2000 to lease the last major piece of vacant land at City College to an entrepreneur who built a commercial driving range there.
Majestic Golf Land took up nearly four acres at the southern end of the East Hollywood campus. The property was enclosed in netting strung from towering poles to keep golf balls from flying onto the campus. In eight years, the business generated $820,000 in rental income and fees.
When the construction program began in 2001, college leaders decided to provide much-needed parking and new athletic facilities on five acres wrapped around the driving range. The track, field and bleachers would be built atop a new 950-space garage, with a P.E. complex next door.
Fitting the phys-ed building into the cramped site meant that gyms, classrooms, workout rooms and a glassed-in dance studio would be stacked in a five-story tower. It quickly became clear that building up rather than out would be difficult and expensive.
"You pay a premium for a five-story building over a two-story building," said the project designer, Cliff Peterson of Studios Architecture, an international firm with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"Designing next to 175-foot netting and poles had a significant negative effect complicating the design," he added. "It was an awkward geometry."
A nationwide run-up in construction costs added to the building's price tag. In 2003, the project's cost had been estimated at $29 million. In November 2005, a cost-management consultant said the bill could run to $42 million.
Faculty and staff complaints about runaway construction budgets intensified, and in 2006, the college scaled back several projects. Steven Maradian, then president of City College, scrapped the physical education building and ordered a two-story version built on the other side of campus.
Maradian told a citizens' oversight committee that construction would proceed "far more quickly" at the new site, according to minutes of a March 19, 2006, meeting.
That is not what happened. Because the original design was now useless, the project was pushed back to square one. A new design would have to be commissioned, and the revised plans would have to be reviewed by state architects, campus administrators, and faculty and staff committees.
Crews did not break ground on the project until late 2010. Because of its reduced size and because the recession drove down construction costs, the building will cost less than anticipated, an estimated $15.2 million. But it won't accommodate all the college's physical education classes and related activities, so officials plan to remodel an old women's gymnasium, at a cost of $12 million.
The parking structure-athletic arena also ran into trouble, and again the driving range was part of the problem.
One of the garage's parking levels was partially underground, sloping as much as six feet below grade immediately adjacent to the driving range. When Bomel Construction Co., the prime contractor on the project, began excavation work in December 2005, a safety inspector sounded a warning: Digging up the soil could undermine the poles.
What is more, the garage was not designed to handle the structural pressure transmitted by the range's soil, poles and netting, the inspector said. The netting and poles caught the wind like a sail, increasing the load.
"This has the potential of being a critical item," Bob Wood, a consultant who helped design the garage, said in an e-mail to campus construction managers. "We don't want to see this project on the evening news because one of these poles is leaning."
Studios Architecture said it knew that the parking structure would need to be shored up and that Bomel was supposed to produce the necessary designs as the project proceeded and the extent and nature of the work became clear. Bomel, in e-mails to district officials, said it was not responsible for generating the designs.