By Caleb Lunetta
Signal Senior Staff Writer
A firm that donated to the “Committee for College of the Canyons – Yes on Measure E,” and subsequently was awarded a half-million-dollar contract paid for by Measure E funds, has been fined $5,500 by the state for failing to file timely campaign statements.
Westberg-White, an architectural firm that donated the $10,000 in previously undisclosed funds in 2016, was selected earlier this year by the Santa Clarita Community College District board of trustees to fulfill a $540,000 contract funded by Measure E.
COC board member Joan MacGregor — who made the motion to approve the architectural firm’s recent contract — said she was unaware of the donation that was made. She added that, after learning about the donation on Tuesday, she has requested more information for the board to review.
In a decision released during its Oct. 21 meeting, the California Fair Political Practices Commission stated that Westberg-White had failed to properly disclose an April 19, 2016 donation of $10,000 to the “Yes on Measure E Committee.”
“We know why they hired us, and we understand that we did not seek their business; they sought our business,” said Gregory Beard, the principal architect listed on the COC contract. Beard referred further comment to the school.
“We weren’t aware of any of (the donations),” said Eric Harnish, a spokesman for COC. “That’s not something that we would be aware of and that’s an issue between the company and FPPC.”
Harnish said that the school had a previous contract with the architecture firm when it designed one of the school’s soccer fields in 2015.
The COC Measure E Committee was one of seven different facilities bond measures throughout California that were mentioned in the FPPC judgment that the Tustin-based firm donated to in 2016. The donations totaled $88,000.
The firm reportedly filed a campaign statement on Feb. 5, 2021, a little less than five years after the original donation, stating they had made the donation to the Measure E Committee between Jan. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2016.
“The (Political Reform Act) requires major donor committees to timely file certain campaign statements and reports to disclose their campaign activities,” reads the FPPC judgment. “(Westberg-White) violated the Act by failing to timely file semi-annual campaign statements and 24-hour contribution reports.”
Three months after the firm reported its donations, the COC board of trustees hired Westberg-White for $540,000 to develop the school’s 2022-27 Educational and Facilities Master Plan, or EFMP. The EFMP, according to the board’s May 12, 2021 agenda, was set to expire in 2022, and is used to project “developments in the college’s instructional program, services and facilities needs from the present to the year 2027.”
“Westberg-White is the consultant group that produced the EFMP that met our goals,” reads the agenda item. “At our request, they provided a detailed presentation of their planning concept to the Facilities Planning Committee – who unanimously agreed to move them forward for consideration.”
The contract is slated to be paid for out of Measure E funds, but MacGregor said the Measure E Committee has been disbanded for a handful of years and that board members would not necessarily immediately disqualify a suitable contractor even if it was previously known that they had donated to a committee benefiting the college.
While the Measure E bond benefitted the college, the committee in support of the bond measure and the school are technically two different entities.
“I know that many people feel that this is not correct …. But sometimes you don’t know that they donated,” said MacGregor. “Then they come up and they are the best qualified to get the contract later. It’s not something that we’re hiding or anything like that; it’s just something that happened.”
The board voted to approve the contract by unanimous decision on May 12. In total, Westberg-White was fined $2,500 for “failure to timely file semi-annual campaign statements” and $3,000 for “failure to timely file 24-hour contribution reports.”