Demonstrators Decry Veto of New Campus
More than 200 Mission College supporters turned out Friday to protest Gov. George Deukmejian’s veto of $8.9 million earmarked for school buildings and to hear what options remain to find money for a permanent campus.
Many of the protesters said they had believed that their 11-year battle to find a permanent home for the college, part of the Los Angeles Community College District, would be won this year. They rallied for about an hour at a leased San Fernando site, their home base, as a series of speakers assured them that the fight is not over.
Leaders of the rally acknowledged that Wednesday’s veto will probably stall the bid for a permanent campus for at least a year, but local politicians held out some hope that emergency measures in Sacramento could keep the movement alive.
His Faith in Place
“I have not lost my faith in this cause, and from what I’ve seen here today, you have not either,” said Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), who has been one of the leading supporters of Mission College. “We’re not dead yet.”
Katz, who called the veto “a gratuitous cheap shot at the Valley,” said he will try to convince the governor to change his mind by meeting with him and by what he hopes will be an intense letter-writing campaign by private citizens. In addition, Katz said, three options are still available to find Mission College a permanent home this year. They are:
Seeking a veto override, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Assembly and the Senate. Katz said he will consider an override before the Legislature adjourns July 11. State Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge), however, who has also supported funding for a permanent campus, said at the rally that she will not favor such action.
A veto override has never been successful during Deukmejian’s tenure as governor, and in Mission College’s case, it would be extremely unlikely, officials said.
Attaching funding for Mission College to pending bills involving education or construction. Katz said his staff is trying to find such legislation but has so far been unsuccessful.
Trying to amend the $400-million general obligation bond issue expected to be submitted to voters in November to include funds for Mission College. The $8.9 million for the school was included in Deukmejian’s budget as part of the bond issue, but the veto eliminated the funding. Katz said he is still trying to find a way to amend the bond issue.
At the rally, protesters rebutted Deukmejian’s reasons for vetoing funds for a school building, which had been planned on district-owned land at Eldridge Avenue and Hubbard Street, near El Cariso Regional Park in Sylmar.
Deukmejian cited declining enrollment in the Los Angeles Community College District and said, “Recent local developments further suggest that the district may, in fact, need to dispose of the Mission College site.”
Grand Jury Report
The statement is believed to refer to a June 3 Grand Jury report on mismanagement within the district. The report included a recommendation that Mission College be absorbed by Valley and Pierce community colleges, the only other district campuses in the Valley.
Lowell Erickson, Mission College president, told the crowd that, although overall enrollment within the district has declined sharply, the student population at Mission rose 13% last year to 3,600 students.
Furthermore, Erickson said, the existence of Mission College is vital in light of studies showing that Sylmar and Pacoima are the fastest-growing communities in Los Angeles.
If the college had a permanent campus, Mission’s projected enrollment by the year 2000 would be about 8,600 students, Erickson said.
“We’ve got the land. We’ve got the enrollment. Now all we need is a permanent home,” Erickson said.
Since it opened in February, 1975, Mission College has operated out of storefront classrooms, nearby high school and hospital rooms and other structures in the northeast Valley as district officials considered buying a permanent structure.
Last year, the district sold 80 acres of land in Northridge for $12.5 million. That money was earmarked as the community college district’s contribution toward building a permanent home for Mission College.
The state’s $8.9 million would have been combined with the $12.5 million in district funds to prepare the grounds and build on the district-owned land in Sylmar.
This year, in light of endorsements by the state Community Colleges Board of Governors and the state Post-Secondary Education Commission and the approval of both the Assembly and the Senate, hopes for a permanent home for Mission reached a peak.
Deukmejian’s veto, however, did not come as a total surprise to local officials, who said Friday they first heard rumblings among state Republicans last week that the funding was in trouble since it was not included in the state’s preliminary budget in January.
Some protesters speculated that the veto was politically motivated to discredit Katz and State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys). A Robbins representative at the rally said he is “100% committed” to financing of a permanent Mission College campus.
Mention of Partisanship
Katz, who is facing what could be a tough election in November, is being challenged for the second time by Republican Robert Thoreson, a Los Angeles police detective. Deukmejian is supporting Thoreson, Katz spokesman Jeff Monical said. Robbins faces little opposition.
Referring to the veto, Katz said, “If the governor’s motivation is partisan politics, he needs to be told that this is not a partisan issue. We are talking about higher education for a community that is growing rapidly.”
Katz added that he doubts Deukmejian’s veto was politically inspired.
“I have to believe that he is acting on bad information,” he said.
La Follette predicted that money for Mission College will be approved next year if the community college district begins making preparations, such as grading, on the planned site for the school. She said such action would show the governor that the district is committed to a permanent home for Mission College.
“I’ll stake my life on it that it will be approved next year,” she said.