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Mission No Longer Impossible : Community College Celebrates Getting Funds for 1st Permanent Building

Times Staff Writer

After 12 years of setbacks and frustration, the victory celebration was lively but short-lived.

The $8.5 million needed to start construction on the first permanent building of Los Angeles Mission College was included in the final 1987-88 state budget Tuesday. And at the news, Lowell Erickson, the college’s president, ran through the hallways of the temporary offices shouting for joy.

Moments later, however, he and supporters of building a permanent Sylmar campus for the two-year institution turned to developing strategies to get state funding to complete the campus.

“This money takes care of one building. We still have several to go before you can say Mission has a permanent home,” Erickson said.

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“One building does not make a college campus. There is still much more work to be done,” said Guadalupe Ramirez, the 71-year-old Sylmar resident who has been in the forefront of the fight for a permanent home for the college.

Plan to Lobby

Ramirez said she and other Northeast Valley residents will soon launch a letter-writing campaign in which they will thank local politicians for their help in securing funding for the first building, which will contain 20 classrooms, and urge them to put the completion of the Mission campus at the top of their legislative agenda.

“We cannot forget that we have a long way to go,” Ramirez said.

For their part, college district officials said they will start seeking state approval for the other buildings needed to complete the Mission campus.

“The district’s construction list is exceedingly long, and since there hasn’t been much state money for these kinds of projects, it is impossible to say how long it will take to get each project funded,” said Norman Schneider, the district’s director of communication services.

Mission College is on a 22-acre site that stretches from the intersection of Eldridge Avenue and Hubbard Street to the border of El Cariso Regional Park. Plans for a campus have been on the drawing board for almost a decade, but a series of setbacks have delayed construction of the school.

Since it was established in 1976, classes have been held in storefronts, high school campuses and hospital auditoriums throughout the northeast San Fernando Valley.

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Lengthy Dispute

The first barrier to the creation of a permanent home for Mission College was a lengthy dispute over the purchase of the Sylmar site. When the college district finally acquired the land, drastic cuts in state funding for all community colleges stopped further development. And twice, when the state had budgeted money for Mission, Gov. Deukmejian eliminated the funds.

Earlier this year, Deukmejian proposed that funds for a Mission building be included in the state budget because he had been convinced of the growing demand for a northeast Valley community college. His personal backing almost assured that the money would not be vetoed again.

In addition to the state funds, Mission has another $12.5 million for campus development. That money comes from the 1985 sale of 80 acres of undeveloped Northridge land.

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The Northridge property was the original site for Mission College. But a district study conducted in the late 1960s showed more need for a two-year college in the northeast Valley than in the northwest Valley because the latter contained other community colleges. By the early 1970s, district trustees decided to move Mission campus from Northridge to Sylmar, and the Northridge property was put up for sale.

Erickson said the $12.5 million will be used for construction of parking lots, for widening streets that lead to the campus and for installation of utilities and landscaping.

Additionally, part of the money may be used to buy or lease bungalows that could be used as classrooms, a library, a bookstore and offices for campus security.

Enrollment Swings

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The lack of a central campus, coupled with a drop in enrollment that has been experienced by all nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College system, sent Mission’s enrollment on a roller-coaster ride. In 1982, Mission had about 4,600 students, most of them part time. By 1984, enrollment had fallen 27% to 3,300 students.

Attendance crept upward again in 1985 to 3,400, after Mission introduced a program that brought college-level courses to northeast Valley businesses. Last fall, when that program expanded, Mission’s enrollment jumped 49% above the 1985 figures to 5,000 students.

Erickson said that Mission’s enrollment historically has been hurt by the college’s operating in various buildings scattered throughout the Valley.

FINDING A CAMPUS: CHRONOLOGY

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1975--A study by Los Angeles Community College District shows that few northeast Valley students attend Pierce College in Woodland Hills or Valley College in Van Nuys. Trustees scrap plans to build third Valley two-year institution in Northridge and choose a site in San Fernando.

1976--Mission College opens with classrooms and administrative offices scattered throughout the northeast Valley.

1978--District engineers report location designated for Mission campus is riddled with earthquake faults. Search begins for new site.

1979--District starts negotiations for 22 acres of undeveloped Sylmar land owned by the Los Angeles School District. College district offers $285,000. School district asks for $2.5 million.

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1982--After 2 1/2 years of bitter negotiations, college and school districts settle dispute after outside appraiser establishes worth of Sylmar land at $925,000.

1982--College district sets aside $2 million for development of Mission campus.

1983--Gov. George Deukmejian’s first budget slashes state funding for community colleges. To cover losses in Los Angeles district, trustees take back $2-million Mission development money and return money to general fund.

1984--Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) gets legislative permission to change language in state law allowing district to use proceeds from sale of Northridge land exclusively for development of Mission campus.

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1985--A state Department of Finance report states that enrollment projections do not justify an additional campus in the Los Angeles district. Based on that report, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors votes not to add $13.9 million for construction of a Mission campus to 1986 state budget. The Northridge land is sold for $12.5 million.

1986--Board of Governors approves adding $9 million to state budget for construction of single Mission College building. In June, Gov. George Deukmejian vetoes Mission allocation. Deukmejian says he took action because he did not believe expansion was needed in a district with a declining enrollment.

1987--In a surprise move, Deukmejian adds $8.5 million for a Mission College building to the state budget. The governor says he changed his mind after he was shown that enrollment at Mission was on the upswing. Last week, Deukmejian signed a $41.1-billion budget that included allocation for Mission College building.


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