Mon, Feb

City Cancels Lease, Exposes Democratic Party Machine

VOICES - Wednesday (December 5, 2012), the Board of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is expected to accept the City of Los Angeles’ decision to prematurely terminate its lease of the historic Van de Kamp Bakery Building at the Glassell Park/Atwater Village campus after only 19 months of occupancy.
 The City’s abrupt walking away from its lease of the Bakery Building means that all of the sub-tenants that were paying rent through the City of Los Angeles to the LACCD for use of the community college school building have or are departing effective December 31, 2012.
This stunning news highlights a complete failure of leadership by a large number of Democratic machine leaders to whom we have appealed for help and who have refused to perform their public jobs to protect taxpayer interests.
A bit of history illustrates the magnitude of failure from the highest levels of the state down to the local City Council district.  About $93 million of taxpayer-financed community college bonds were used to acquire, design, and build the Van de Kamps Satellite Campus of Los Angeles City College.  The campus includes the original Bakery Building and a New Educational Building.  Los Angeles City College officials in 2000-2004 worked closely with a community Van de Kamps advisory group to develop a plan to open the campus without need of state financial assistance.  The plan was validated as overwhelmingly economically feasible by the respected economic analysis firm Larry Kosmont Associates.
The plan included a great deal of what are called “community services” classes to be marketed to Northeast area residents who are underserved by LACCD.  These could be all sorts of non-degree business skills courses, foreign language classes, etc.  To provide “ladders of economic opportunity” to young adults from Northeast, about 20% of the classes were to be degreed academic programs intended to reach out to populations at highest risk of hopelessness and gang activity.
But Carl Friedlander and Gary Columbo of the Faculty Union did not support building Van de Kamps, probably because a great deal of the classes would be non-union instructors not under the thumb of the union.  We believe Friedlander and Columbo used the chaos of the state budget crisis to convince former chancellor Marshall Drummond to reverse course just 9 months before Van de Kamps was scheduled to open. 
With the support of Vice Chancellor Marvin Martinez and Deputy Mayor Larry Frank, emails show a scheme was hatched among Drummond, LA City College President Jamillah Moore, and Faculty Senate President Ken Sherwood to scare the LA City College faculty to vote to transfer control of the Van de Kamps campus from City College to LACCD central office administrators.  And once control was wrested from City College, central office administrators like Columbo, Martinez, and disgraced and fired Facilities Manager Larry Eisenberg could lobby the LACCD Board to move to just “lease out” the Van de Kamps campus for a stream of cash.  Gullible Board Members Mona Field, Sylvia Scott-Hayes, Kelly Candeale, and Nancy Pearlman went along.
Emails show that it was Columbo who first reached out to Judy Burton, the $270,000-per-year CEO of Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools (yes, she pulls almost the same salary as LAUSD’s John Deasey for administering a fraction of the schools he does) to see if Alliance would be interested leasing the New Education Building at the VDK Campus.  You bet she would!  
What charter high school operator would not want classrooms and laboratories with college-level equipment that had just been constructed with college bond funds?  And, Burton and her staff assured the LACCD Board that Alliance would move on to another location if the community college district became ready to use the buildings for their intended purpose.  In fact, Burton bragged in email how the Alliance was adept at finding new locations.
Flash forward to this past May when Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones agreed with our Coalition that LACCD staff “lied” to the LACCD Board of Trustees about environmental compliance issues surrounding lease of the New Education Building to Burton, and ordered the LACCD to set aside the charter school lease and prepare a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report.  In connection with that order, Burton submitted sworn testimony claiming she could not possibly move the Alliance charter school as a result of the lease termination.  These were the tears of a crocodile with very sharp teeth.
LACCD and the Alliance appealed the decision.  We think they did this not because Judge Jones was wrong on the merits, but with an appeal pending, LACCD could continue to ignore Judge Jones’ order to set aside the charter school lease.  Burton knows that if the lease is set aside before renewal or extension, there are other disturbing questions about how Alliance was given the facility without LACCD conducting any competitive bidding among other possible lessees of the site.
And, because the Alliance is paying only $1,000 per student per year capped at $500,000, instead of market-based square footage prices, Burton and her Board of Directors, including Richard Riordan and Eli Broad’s foundation, are literally “stealing” the facilities for themselves.  Yes, some LACCD dunce actually agreed to this way-below market rate price.  
Based on prevailing market rents, we estimate the LACCD could be getting at least $250,000 more per year than Alliance is paying.  No wonder Burton and her politically-connected cronies are lobbying the LACCD Board to renew the lease.  Hell, maybe they are now lobbying to take over the whole LACCD campus for an equally idiotic pricing scheme now that the City is bailing out.  They want LACCD to hurry up and finish the environmental report and quickly release the site to them before anyone asks any further embarrassing questions.
LACCD is now preparing a report to evaluate whether any of this leasing activity is consistent with environmental constraints of the site.  Could it be that the City’s subtenants are revolting and reneging on their leases of the Bakery building over compliance with traffic limitations?  Or, has the economic stimulus money that once flowed freely to these workforce training non-profits dried up?  Maybe it’s a bit of both or something else Deputy Mayor Larry Frank is not talking about.
The subtenants occupying the historic Bakery building are community-based non-profits who claimed they would provide job training and worker retraining opportunities. They are Community Career Development, Inc. led by Gloria Moore, the Worker Education and Resource Center, Inc. led by Diane Factor, the Archdiocesan Youth Employment Center Project led by staff of Catholic Charities, Inc., and the Los Angeles City College Workforce Center Offices.
This is where the abrupt departure of these non-profits ought to outrage Northeast taxpayers and leaders.  Fired Facilities Director Larry Eisenberg’s staff at LACCD spent $7 million of bond funds to destroy community college classroom designs and build office space for the non-profits.  Emails show WERC Director Diane Factor “bitching” that she could not see on the new construction plans her “private suite” of offices that she wanted built with the bond funds.
These non-profits, backed by Deputy Mayor Larry Frank of Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, were literally given the benefit of millions of dollars of tenant improvements that they appear to be walking away from without reimbursing the LACCD or taxpayers!  Who was the Einstein at LACCD who negotiated a deal to trust the Mayor’s office and these workforce training non-profits?
Over the past three years, we have met with, telephoned, and written to the many elected officials seeking assistance to halt the illegal expenditure of bond funds for the benefit of these non-profits who we said could never pay enough to reimburse LACCD for the millions illegally spent.  Now, just 19 months after taking possession of “their” custom offices and training rooms, these non-profits are leaving LACCD and the taxpayers with a multi-million dollar scandal.
Who could have intervened yet did not due to lobbying from the public unions behind these work training non-profits?  Councilmembers Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti in whose districts the Van de Kamps campus sits or did sit, did nothing and approved City of Los Angeles leasing of the Bakery Building as a conduit and “front” for the non-profits.  Their cooperation in the Mayor’s office “takeover” of Van de Kamps is inexcusable.
State Senator Kevin de Leon and State Assemblymember Gil Cedillo were asked by us on numerous occasions to help intervene to stop this disaster.  In fact, de Leon’s chief of staff, Steve Veres, ran for and got elected to the LACCD Board and is its President.  One could argue that de Leon, through his Chief of Staff, has presided over the Van de Kamps fiasco.
Congressman Xavier Becerra, who programmed $500,000 of federal money to pay for physical exercise equipment for our community’s use, remained silent while LACCD handed this equipment over to the use of Burton’s charter school.
Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, while he was Attorney General, reviewed our evidence of illegally spent bond funds and while agreeing that there appeared to be improprieties, claimed Brown had no budget to investigate his fellow Democrats.  State law provides the Attorney General recovers investigative costs from those investigated.  He could have stopped this and did not.
State Controller John Chiang, initially sent his auditors into LACCD and uncovered $140 million of misspent funds, and concluded the unqualified person hired as LACCD’s Inspector General, Christine Marez, was hired as a result of criminal malfeasance by LACCD officials.  When LACCD refused to turn over Van de Kamps construction records for his inspection, Chiang appears to have backed off investigation of his fellow Democrats to get to the bottom of this corruption.
Republican District Attorney Steve Cooley’s staff is aware of the illegal expenditure allegations.  Cooley’s office opened a criminal investigation on the hiring of Marez that has resulted in no action.  How come little City of Bell gets trounced by the DA, but the big fish at the City and LACCD remain uninvestigated?
City Controller and Mayoral Candidate Wendy Greuel concluded in her report that Christine Marez’s hiring violated LACCD’s procurement policies, but failed to even recommend termination of the ill-begotten Inspector General contract and rebidding.  As a result, Marez takes classes on how to be an inspector general while raking in the dough on a $3.5 million contract with LACCD.
And Christine Marez herself is to blame.  By LACCD Board resolution championed by former Board President Miguel Santiago, the first investigation of the new LACCD Inspector General was supposed to determine the legality of the bond expenditures at Van de Kamps.  Her report skirted the issue completely and instead raised a few minor accounting problems.  Has Santiago demanded a full report?
And recently, Ms. Marez moved her offices to new digs.  Guess where?  Yes.  LACCD’s Inspector General moved into the second floor of the historic Bakery building.  She is literally sitting in the very spot where officials illegally used $7 million of bond funds to benefit non-profits linked to Antonio Villaraigosa by destroying planned classrooms and substituting custom office space.
When you picture Ms. Marez, sitting in the middle of the building where she refused to investigate her Democratic party bosses’ illegal expenditure of taxpayer bonds, you begin to see that many persons in the corrupt Democratic Party machine are responsible for this disaster because they themselves committed a form of malfeasance in office.  How will they redeem themselves in the eyes of voters?
(Miki Jackson and Laura Gutierrez are members of the Van de Kamps Coalition and CityWatch contributors.  The Van de Kamps Coalition is a voluntary group of community organizations and individuals who support restoration of community college programming at the Van de Kamps campus.  Miki Jackson can be reached at [email protected]) –cw
Vol 10 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 4, 2012