Endorsement: Vote yes on Measure LA to invest in community colleges
The Los Angeles Community College District is once again asking taxpayers to finance a construction bond to continue modernizing aging facilities and infrastructure on its nine campuses. The $5.3-billion bond, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot as Measure LA, follows bond measures adopted in 2016, 2008, 2003 and 2001. Those measures provided a total of $9.6 billion for renovation and construction projects.
The revenue from previous bonds has not yet been fully collected or spent. Enrollment at Los Angeles community colleges is down about 20% from pre-pandemic levels.
The ballot measure comes amid lawsuits filed by a construction company — the latest just a few weeks ago — over delays and other contract disputes related to the construction of Los Angeles Valley College’s Academic and Cultural Center. The lawsuits are being resolved but recall an uneven history of oversight by the district. A 2011 investigation by The Times uncovered financial waste, mismanagement and cronyism.
So voters may wonder why they should support the measure.
The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.
We urge voters to approve Measure LA because it is an investment in the educational future of residents served by the country’s largest community college district.
The district has made many changes since The Times published its investigation. Annual audits conducted by KPMG show that the district has been responsive to recommendations for better oversight and management. Several committees now oversee aspects of the bond building program, including a district citizens’ oversight committee that has the power to propose an investigation or audit of any contract or component.
Measure LA funds would pay to renovate and modernize buildings, infrastructure and athletic facilities, in addition to upgrading technology, promoting sustainability and avoiding costly repairs. Today, spotty Wi-Fi plagues every campus, the average age of many buildings is 64 years, and old water pipes and other aging infrastructure beset the district.
Previous bonds have funded about 745 completed projects, 45 others that are in construction and 98 that are in the design phase — partially accounting for nearly $1 billion in unspent funds.
These four leaders have the vision and experience to lead these community colleges vital to the region.
Measure LA, which requires 55% voter approval, would pay for a long list of projects: $1.3 billion to renovate pre-1970s buildings to meet safety requirements; $734 million for power, water and sewer infrastructure; $300 million for technology upgrades; $687 million for sustainability projects that would allow the district to achieve carbon-free energy consumption by 2040; and $163 million to improve athletic facilities.
The measure would levy a tax on property within the district boundary of $25 per $100,000 of assessed value for 25 years, on top of the $24.88 per $100,000 being paid under previous bond measures. District officials estimate that Measure LA would add $88-$157 to the average homeowner’s annual tax bill.
Voters may be hesitant to commit to new spending during this period of economic uncertainty. Yet this is exactly the time to invest in safe, modern and reliable educational facilities for residents to obtain new skills and certifications to better weather the shaky economy.
All kids deserve the quality arts education that California promises but has failed to deliver at many of its public schools.
Upgraded facilities also are more likely to lure students back to campuses. A robust community college system is a vital link to higher education for students who don’t have the grades or resources to go straight from high school to a four-year university, and for people who want to learn new skills to boost their career opportunities. It’s an important resource to address the deep inequalities in income and wealth that exist in Los Angeles County.
Whether or not voters approve Measure LA, district trustees and administrators should continue improving accountability and transparency in managing bond funds. And we hope the state auditor will examine the district’s bond management, as was requested earlier this month by state Assemblymember Lisa Calderon (D-Whittier).
Taxpayers have invested billions into supporting this vital higher educational system and are being asked for billions more on Nov. 8. They deserve to know that it is being well spent.
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