Keeping Faith on Prop. BB
The Los Angeles school board made a pact with the voters: Approve Proposition BB, the $2.4-billion school repair, construction and improvement bond, and a new citizen watchdog oversight committee would ensure that the bond proceeds were spent effectively, efficiently and exactly as the voters intended. Now that Proposition BB has been passed, the board needs to honor that promise by insisting on strong oversight for all projects funded from the bond proceeds, starting with the proposed Belmont Learning Center.
The board is scheduled to vote Monday on the Belmont project. Construction costs are estimated at $82 million for the new high school, which would be built just west of downtown. The site is a short distance from the existing Belmont High, destined to become a middle school. The State Allocations Board is expected to pay for half of the cost; the remainder would be financed from the bond proceeds. It is an appropriate use of those funds because Proposition BB earmarked $900 million specifically for school construction and the Belmont project was included in that calculation.
The complex Belmont proposal already has been scrutinized by a blue-ribbon citizens committee chaired by Edward J. Blakely, dean of the USC School of Urban and Regional Planning. That committee raised questions and recommended changes, functioning exactly as the Proposition BB oversight committee should in order to protect the bond proceeds. Although a review by the bond oversight committee may now appear redundant, the school board needs to adhere to the process to safeguard the credibility of the L.A. Unified School District and encourage the continued trust of voters.
The procedure may frustrate supporters of the new high school, including school board member Vicki Castro and the parents of thousands of children who are bused to campuses far from home to relieve overcrowding at Belmont High. Many interpret the teachers union request for the Proposition BB review as a stalling tactic that would allow the growth of opposition based on concerns about the project’s cost, development fees and other controversial issues. The impatience of supporters is understandable, but skipping the review would encourage cynicism among those voters who say there’s been a change in the rules just a week after the proposition polled a remarkable 71% of the vote, well over the two-thirds margin required to increase local taxes.
The Los Angeles school board should not break faith with the voters. No funds should be committed until the new review has been made.