LACCD Board Facing Choice: Another Corrupt Deal or Opportunity for Northeast LA’s Young Adults

EDUCATION POLITICS - On February 8 the Los Angeles County Superior Court issued a final order to the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College to set aside an illegal lease of the New Education Building at the Van de Kamps Satellite Campus of Los Angeles City College.

For good measure and after some strange events, on May 3, the Court issued another order to the Board to immediately terminate the lease of the current tenant, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools – a K to 12 charter high school.

Due to LACCD's ignoring both environmental and bond laws, it or any other tenant never had any legitimate right to be located in the New Education Building at Van de Kamps.

These orders of the Court represent a significant legal victory for the Van de Kamps Coalition fighting for the right of young adults in Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Atwater Village, Highland Park, Mount Washington, and Eagle Rock to have access to community college outreach services.  

In July 2009, the Board of LACCD, led by Trustees Mona Field (still on the Board) and Sylvia Scott-Hayes (thankfully departed), callously turned its back on the mission of the community college district and handed a brand new, unfinished community college classroom building to the Alliance Charter School -- a non community college tenant. Richard Riordan, Eli Broad, and other politically-connected persons sit on the Alliance Charter School’s board of directors.

For good measure, the LACCD Board spent almost $1 million of restricted community college bond funds to accelerate construction of the building to assure that Riordan and Broad’s 9-12 grade charter school would open its tenancy in Fall 2009 (instead of having to wait a year while the building was completed at a normal construction expense).

Millions of other funds were spent to install in the historic Van de Kamps Bakery Building other politically-connected tenants who destroyed 8 classrooms in that building – for the benefit of Antonio Villaraigosa’s workforce program boondoggle.  

There is an ongoing Watergate-style effort of LACCD managers to stonewall and cover up this criminal activity (funneling bond funds to the benefit of non-community college “temporary” tenants) by refusing to turn over the accounting records of Van de Kamps construction to State Controller John Chiang.  

Despite the LACCD’s refusal to cooperate with Chaing’s auditors, Chaing issued an audit report estimating that over $10 million of community college bond funds were illegally spent by LACCD on purposes other than providing community college facilities at Van de Kamps.  How many voters out there want to approve any more construction bonds for LACCD?

At the time of this complete betrayal of our community -- after a decade of planning and working WITH Los Angeles City College to open Van de Kamps as a center for young adult and community college enrichment, they used the state budget crisis as a pretense and excuse to NOT OPEN our community college.  

The message to our community was this: “Everywhere else in LA County we will do our best to provide whatever level of community college services we can (given the State budget), but you people in Northeast Los Angeles will be offered nothing at all in return for your property taxes. Please make your tax check out to LACCD Board of Trustees.”  

Right now, the average Northeast Los Angeles taxpayer will shell out just over $100 per year and Mona Field will give Northeast taxpayers her middle finger.  Her actions, and the willingness of any other LACCD Board member to go along with her idiot leasing plan from 2009, are an embarrassment to our community.

Despite the Alliance Charter School being located in an improper place under a corruptly awarded sweetheart, no-bid lease, we are proud of its academic excellence. We have kids, some of which live in Northeast Los Angeles, who are excelling without knowing the circumstances of how the charter school’s management obtained its corrupt deal to occupy the space.

Judy Burton the $270,000 a year CEO of the Alliance Charter School NEVER INFORMED THE PARENTS who enrolled their children at the Van de Kamps Alliance School that they were there under the most legally suspect circumstances and that there was pending litigation challenging their right to be there.  

Recently, when the parents were finally told part of the truth by Burton they naturally were angered.

Of course, Burton pointed the finger away from her own culpability in this disaster and tried to fix “blame” on Van de Kamps Coalition and the many Northeast community organizations fighting for a chance to give young adults a pathway out of poverty, gangs, and other negative outcomes.   Alliance Parents: Riordan, Broad, Burton and LACCD knew all along they had no business being in this community college facility. The blame squarely falls on their shoulders for this unwelcome surprise to you.

To add insult to injury, after Van de Kamps Coalition filed its lawsuit with the smoking gun emails showing LACCD knew it was violating environmental laws when it approved the Alliance Charter School’s lease, the Board chose to spend precious taxpayer bond funds to defend in court what the judge branded was “essentially a lie”.  

Outside legal counsel to LACCD has billed the taxpayers an additional $319,000 and counting trying to defend the indefensible actions of Mona Field and the Board.  This is money that should have been spent on building educational facilities, but instead it has been wasted to try to protect the bloated egos at LACCD and cover up their corruption.

And to really rub salt in the wound, the LACCD Board recently swept $12 million allocated in the Measure J Bond for another Northeast LA educational project into the coffers of the renovation of the LACCD’s downtown headquarters building.  

Thus, $12 million promised to Northeast voters, a portion of which could have been allocated to restore the 8 destroyed classrooms at Van de Kamps, will now provide Chancellor Daniel LaVista and General Counsel Camille Goulet with plush new office furnishings and their own renovated work place.  

This was yet another poke in the eye of Northeast Los Angeles taxpayers.  Well, if the LACCD ever has the gall to propose another bond measure, we know how we will vote.


Next Wednesday, the LACCD Board has an item on its agenda entitled “Van de Kamps Innovation Center Options.”  LACCD managers will apparently make some kind of public presentation of options for the Van de Kamps campus, now that the courts have declared that the Alliance School cannot continue to lease this site without a full supplemental environmental impact report.

Once the Alliance School’s lease is set aside, the LACCD Board will face a requirement to make a NEW DISCRETIONARY DECISION regarding what path it will choose for the Van de Kamps Campus. Will Board members choose to try to prepare a new environmental document to reinstall Riordan and Broad’s politically favored charter school in a new no-bid corrupt deal?  Or is there another way that has more integrity?

Yes.  It’s a whole new day and the voters (and John Chiang and the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit) are watching.

There is a 200-page report prepared by experts in school feasibility that validated the original plan to open Van de Kamps with a mixture of fee-based (profit oriented) classes that are routinely offered at other community college locations of LACCD and traditional academic courses.  

The plan called for offering about 20% of entry-level community college courses so that transit-dependent, culturally-isolated kids graduating from Franklin and Eagle Rock High Schools could start out in academic classes in their own community.  

As these kids gain their footing, they can move to take more advanced classes at LA City College or other nearby community college campuses.

That vision was validated in Kosmont’s $50,000 study LACCD paid for BEFORE it authorized construction of Van de Kamps.  

LACCD could implement this plan if egos could be set aside.  

Gary Columbo, the very person who first offered Van de Kamps to Judy Burton’s Alliance School (we have the e-mails), has resigned from his Vice Chancellor’s job and returned to LA City College to “teach English until he retires.”  

It was Columbo, with his documented history of bad mouthing Van de Kamps, who suggested the Alliance Charter School’s sweetheart, no-bid deal to former Chancellor Marshall Drummond. Thankfully Drummond and Columbo are no longer in a position to further harm the Van de Kamps Campus to the tune of millions of wasted taxpayer monies.

Van de Kamps was to be an outreach campus – to offer a pathway to success for high school graduates living nearby.  For God’s sake, the Board should be there offering an alternative to the kids tempted by gangs on nearby Drew Street where there have been so many problems.

Things are getting better in our communities but meaningful community college outreach is a critical missing piece because of the 2009 misstep by LACCD.

And what are the options for a location for the Riordan-Broad-Burton managed Alliance Charter School?  Just one-quarter mile down San Fernando Road is a brand new LAUSD high school campus where Alliance Charter School operates one of the academies.  The building was built with K-12 bond funds which means it is a proper location for this charter school.  The school Alliance just opened at that new high school is seriously under-subscribed.  In other words, there is space there.

Alliance could, with the support of LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia (who supported the corrupt leasing of Van de Kamps), move the excellent Alliance Environmental High School into that 9-12 high school campus.

The students would have access to playing fields and other amenities they do not now have. In addition they would no longer face the  hazards of sharing a campus and common areas with adults on probation and in gang diversion programs which occupy the Bakery Building a few feet away.

In the litigation, Judy Burton submitted declarations that directly contradicted her emails to Gary Columbo stating that the Alliance is “expert” at starting a charter school at temporary locations, growing them to full enrollment, and moving them to a permanent location.  
Does anyone believe that Riordan-Broad-Burton does not have the resources and ability to relocate from the Van de Kamps location to a lawful location?  To ask the question is to answer it.  The Alliance school will be OK in the end.  We are confident of that.

The real question is whether the LACCD Board has learned anything from following Mona Field and Sylvia Scott-Hayes down the path of intentional violations of state contracting laws, environmental laws, and constitutional restrictions on the use of community college bond funds.  For the sake of Northeast young adults and the taxpayers trying to support them, let’s hope they find another way.

(Miki Jackson and Laura Gutierrez are members of the Van de Kamps Coalition. Miki Jackson can be reached at –cw

Tags: Miki Jackson, Laura Gutierrez, Van de Kamps Coalition, education, schools, kids, Northeast LA, Richard Riordan, Eli Broad

Vol 10 Issue 41
Pub: May 22, 2012