Los Angeles Community College District Trustees on Thursday chose Leticia Quezada, a community relations manager for a dairy company who was backed by key local Latino politicians, to fill a vacancy on the seven-member board.
She is to fill the unexpired term of Rick Tuttle, who won election in June as Los Angeles city controller.
About one-fourth of the students in the nine Los Angeles community colleges are Latino, and Quezada, who is to take office in 30 days, will be the only Latino board member.
Although it is an obscure $12,000-a-year part-time job, board membership has been used as a political springboard by, among others, former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Quezada was accompanied to the final round of interviews and voting on Thursday by Assemblyman Richard Alatorre (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles).
The only candidate among the finalists with such visible political backing, she also claimed endorsements from state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles school board member Larry Gonzalez.
In a process designed to be "as democratic as possible," in the words of one trustee, the board interviewed 44 candidates on Tuesday and, after the first round of voting, invited 11 back on Thursday. Each made a final five-minute pitch and then answered questions about how to bring more money and more students into the two-year colleges in Los Angeles. Since passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, community colleges have depended almost entirely on the state Legislature for their funds.
The trustees voted once and narrowed the field to five: Quezada; Vicki Reynolds, a former member of the Beverly Hills school board; David Lopez-Lee, a USC professor of public administration; Rose Matsui Ochi, an assistant to Mayor Tom Bradley, and Lily Chen, a Monterey Park councilwoman.
On the final round of voting, Quezada, an assistant manager of community relations for the Carnation Co., was the unanimous choice to fill the last two years of Tuttle's term.
After the vote, Alatorre said he had lobbied all the trustees on Quezada's behalf and said he is pleased with the outcome.
Monroe Richman, the newly elected board president, was asked about the effect of the lobbying. "I think it had very little impact on the final determination. It was an objective decision," he replied.
Quezada, of Highland Park, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1975 and a master's degree in education from California State University, Sacramento. Before joining Carnation in 1981, she was a grants manager in Los Angeles city government. She is a member of a variety of commissions concerned with women, Latinos and public education.
She joins a board that has been struggling to cut its budget without exacerbating an already steep enrollment decline. By early September, the board must trim $6.8 million more from its budget to pay off a deficit from last year.
After her selection, Quezada said she wants the district to adopt a "sales approach" to boosting its enrollment.
"We need to sell the community colleges to our students, to create more enthusiasm for what we have to offer," she said. "We need to make students feel that they are wanted and that they will be well served in the colleges."