Fight Brews Over ‘String’ on Loan to L.A. College District
Legislation that would loan $5 million to the hard-pressed Los Angeles Community College District for three years was approved by the Senate on a 28-6 vote Wednesday and sent to the Assembly where a fight was brewing over a “string” attached to the money by Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys).
The fight threatened to jeopardize not only the loan to the Los Angeles district, but other loans totaling $4.8 million to three other community college districts that contend that they face bankruptcy unless they get the money by Sunday.
The Assembly had previously approved the bill by Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-Redlands) that would set aside the loans for the three other districts. These districts, in San Bernardino, Oakland and Susanville, are strapped because declining enrollments have led to lower reimbursements from the state, according to a spokesman for the chancellor of the state community college system.
But the bill was amended in the Senate earlier this month to add money for Los Angeles after that district said it needed $5 million to pay its bills. Los Angeles district officials said their shortfall was the result of trustees’ voting last year to grant teachers a 6% pay hike.
To tide themselves over until Oct. 1, Los Angeles district officials obtained an advance of $5 million from Los Angeles County which the state loan would repay.
The Assembly must now reconsider the Leonard bill because of the changes made in the Senate. Assembly action is expected today or Friday.
Robbins’ Senate amendments attached a “string” that would force the Los Angeles board to hold an election to fill the vacancy created by the election this month of Trustee Rick Tuttle as Los Angeles city controller.
The board has said it wants to appoint someone to fill the Tuttle vacancy.
“L.A. needs the money,” Robbins told his Senate colleagues Wednesday. “But (the district) should also give people the right to vote.”
The senator explained that he sought that condition because he was fed up with an “insensitive” attitude on the part of college trustees. He said he was particularly upset by the board’s attitude on issues affecting his San Fernando Valley constituency--for example, its refusal to sell 80 acres it owns in Northridge and use the proceeds to build a permanent home for Mission College in Sylmar.
In response to Robbins, the Sacramento lobbyist for Los Angeles community colleges, Patricia S. Hewitt, sent a strongly worded letter to lawmakers.
In the letter, she said Robbins “decided to play hardball with our board for our failure to sell property.”
So, she said, “we’re playing hardball right back, and saying, no money for Los Angeles, no money for the others.”
Los Angeles community college officials contend that an election could cost the district as much as $3 million.
Assemblyman Richard Alatorre (D-Los Angeles), who backs the district’s position, said holding a special election would be financially “irresponsible” and vowed to fight Robbins’ amendment.