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Community Colleges Admit Abuse of Bond Funds - Van de Kamps Coalition Demands Investigation

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  • Andrew Garsten
    *For immediate release* *Contact Miki Jackson (323) 855-0764* * * *LACCD Board President Mona Field Admits To Misuse of Bond Funds As The Van de Kamps
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2010
    *For immediate release*

    *Contact Miki Jackson (323) 855-0764*

    * *

    *LACCD Board President Mona Field Admits To Misuse of Bond Funds As The
    Van de Kamps Coalition Demands Expedited Investigation Of Its
    Allegations Of Other Abuse Of Bond Funds*

    *Coalition Alleges LACCD Board Illegally Handed Bond-Funded Community
    College Satellite Campus Over To Charter School And Non-Profit Workforce
    Centers Supported By Mayor Villaraigosa’s Office


    (March 12, 2010 Los Angeles) At its Board meeting on Wednesday, March
    10, 2010, after revelation by the district’s bond counsel of District
    staff’s misuse of unknown amounts of bond funds, the Los Angeles
    Community College Board of Trustees (“LACCD”) admitted to problems with
    administration of its $5.7 billion dollar bond fund capital construction
    program. The stunning admissions by Board President Mona Field and
    Trustee Georgia Mercer of routine and daily misuse of voter-approved
    bond funds led the Van de Kamps Coalition, a community-based advocacy
    group, to renew its call upon the LACCD Citizens Bond Oversight
    Committee to take immediate proactive action.

    “We believe the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee must urgently bring
    in California’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, and Los Angeles County
    District Attorney, to commence a proper _independent_ investigation of
    alleged wrong doing in the conversion of the $72 million Los Angeles
    City College Satellite Campus at the former Van de Kamps Bakery into a
    general fund money making scheme of District officials,” said Coalition
    Steering Committee Member Miki Jackson.

    The Van de Kamps Coalition is a community-based organization that acted
    to save and preserve the historic Van de Kamps Bakery when it was
    threatened with possible demolition more than a decade ago. In 2000,
    former State Senator Richard Polanco, bolstered by a study that showed
    an urgent need for adult, for-credit educational opportunities in
    Northeast Los Angeles, obtained $3 million in seed money from the State
    of California to help LACCD purchase the site and develop a Northeast
    Satellite Campus. In 2001, the LACCD Board, Los Angeles City College
    Academic Senate and Shared Governance Groups endorsed and began planning
    to construct and open the Northeast Satellite Campus of Los Angeles City
    College at Van de Kamps.

    Just last month, at the last Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee meeting,
    Polanco accused District officials of “shenanigans” in the last-minute
    conversion of the Van de Kamps campus from a community college facility
    to a commercial tenant-leased facility. “It’s a bait-and-switch,”
    Polanco told tight-lipped Bond Oversight Committee members. At the end
    of that meeting, the Oversight Committee voted to merely ask the
    District’s General Counsel if the Oversight Committee could begin an
    investigation of the Van de Kamps situation with access to its own
    independent investigator and legal counsel. State law requires a
    community college district to provide reasonable assistance to bond
    oversight committees from non-bond funds and unlike LACCD, the bond
    oversight committee for Los Angeles Unified School District has its own
    investigator and legal counsel.

    At Wednesday’s meeting, bond counsel Lisalee Anne Wells, of the law firm
    of Fulbright & Jaworski, told the Board of Trustees that large sums of
    bond money had been spent “on matters not directly related to campus
    construction, such as travel and public relations.” Wells did not
    indicate whether the improper expenditures she identified included the
    hundreds of thousands of dollars now being spent to redesign the Van de
    Kamps Bakery building to suit the desires of Mayor Villaragosa’s
    unemployment programs. Unless halted by current investigations, those
    unemployment programs are slated in just a few months to go into the Van
    de Kamps building instead of community college classes.

    “Since last summer, our group of community volunteers has been ringing
    the fire bell of potential misuse of bond funds. District officials,
    especially Board President Mona Field, have disparaged our organization
    and ignored the improper redirection of bond-funded community college
    facilities at Van de Kamps,” said Laura Gutierrez of the Coalition. “The
    vote of the Bond Oversight Committee to commence an investigation at Van
    de Kamps, and the public statements of the district’s bond counsel that
    funds are being misspent, contradict claims by Board President Field
    that the bond program is ‘a success, although the District missed a few
    details.’ Hundreds of thousands of dollars and the misdirection of a $72
    million campus into the hands of the Mayor’s pet projects and favored
    non-profit organizations is not a few details,” she said, “it’s
    wholesale fraud.”

    Perhaps in an effort to politically paper over its own neglect, on
    Wednesday the Board of Trustees took an action to create a new Office of
    Inspector General, reporting to themselves. “Things are closing in on
    the Board,” observed Coalition member Andrew Garsten. “For months, the
    LA Times has been preparing a multi-part series regarding misspent bond
    funds. Our Coalition filed an environmental lawsuit to halt changes at
    Van de Kamps without proper review. The Bond Oversight Committee agreed
    that an investigation of Van de Kamps is warranted. Does anyone think an
    Inspector General appointed and fired by this Board of Trustees will
    have any real credibility to conduct impartial investigations?” he observed.

    Attorney Daniel Wright, who was retained by the Van de Kamps Coalition
    and who also spoke last month to the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee,
    suggested that the creation of the Office of the Inspector General is a
    sleight of hand by the District. “The Oversight Committee asked the
    District’s General Counsel Camille Goulet if there were funds to pay for
    an independent investigator and separate legal counsel as LAUSD has. She
    said she would get back to the Oversight Committee at the next quarterly
    meeting, but one wonders if the creation of the Inspector General under
    the thumb of the Board of Trustees is a prelude to denying funding to
    the Oversight Committee to have its own investigator and legal counsel.”

    Netty Carr, one of the founding members of the Van de Kamps Coalition,
    remains skeptical of the Board’s sincerity. “Why isn’t the LACCD
    Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee calling a special meeting and asking
    us to present the substantial evidence we have gathered?” she said. “And
    we know that Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office agreed that there was
    a problem at Van de Kamps, but then Brown’s office claimed it had no
    money to continue an investigation. This makes no sense to us as state
    law gives the Attorney General the power to recover the cost of an
    investigation from LACCD!” she observed. Shaking her head, “It seems
    today that elected officials can rip off the taxpayers and Bond
    Oversight Committees and the elected law enforcement officials just turn
    a blind eye. Where is the integrity our government once had?”
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