Steve Petzold | COC Jumping the Gun on Dorm Plan

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Editor’s note: The following letter was received before the College of the Canyons board of trustees meeting on March 8, but not soon enough to be published before the meeting.

On Wednesday evening (March 8) the trustees at the College of the Canyons will be asked to begin the process of transforming the district they supposedly serve. The concept of a community district will be dead and buried except for voting on trustees and bond measures.

On the agenda are two items related to the construction of an “affordable housing” dormitory at the Valencia campus. The first is a “no-bid” contract to an architecture firm for $2.7 million. The second proposal is for a environmental study subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.

Approval of these contacts is premature. The grant of $62 million from the state of California was made without guidelines because it was a last-minute add-on to a legislative bill increasing Cal Grant expenditures. Legislators just wanted to push the money out the door without forethought. 

Let’s put aside for the moment that $62 million for a 100-bed, three-story dormitory is considered “affordable housing.” It is laughable and sad. The administration, politicians and contractors want to virtue signal and profit from the “homeless crisis.” Spend money without accountability for solving a problem is their plan.

The contract with the architect appears to be a “no-bid contract” based on personal relationships and cronyism. The firm Westberg White Architects, based far outside of the city (Tustin), entered into a stipulation with the Fair Political Practices Commission in 2019 (2019-951) for not reporting required campaign donation forms in a timely manner. One of the donations was made to the very controversial Yes on Measure E for COC Committee. 

Is this further evidence of the perceived “pay to play” culture at COC?

A developer told me years ago that no one can build affordable housing. All politicians can do is cost-shift to third parties, in this case the state and district taxpayers.

The COC administration, led by Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, the city of Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Homeless Coalition, worked behind the scenes without authorization of the trustees to get this grant.

As noted in a recent article written by Jose Herrera for The Signal, trustee Joan MacGregor stated that the board will have to move forward without her support. MacGregor is rightfully concerned that the administration did not communicate with the trustees regarding their plans.

The college made no effort to communicate with the public regarding this major development. Before allocating any money, the trustees should hold public hearings at a special meeting to gauge support and answer specific questions.

The city is washing its hands and disowning its involvement in the project. The city is responsible for providing a grant of $15,000 in Measure H money to the COC Foundation to investigate innovative ways to provide affordable student housing at California community colleges. What a waste of Measure H money!

The dormitory project is overseen by the Department of State Architects, not the city. The city and the Planning Commission do not plan to host any public hearings.

A community college with the geographic size of the Santa Clarita Community College District DOES NOT require student housing. Remember, we have two campuses in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

This dormitory is meant to attract “housing insecure students” from outside of the district. This will include out-of-state football players who want to transfer to Division I schools, and foreign students desiring easy transfers to the University of California and California State University systems. Yes, COC hires employees who recruit outside of the United States. COC is an open-border college and does not respect district boundaries.

There are many unanswered questions behind the project. Is the housing expense charged actually affordable? Does the housing revenue go to the district or the state? What are the income thresholds for residents? Will students with ties to the district be given preference to live in the dorm? Who will be responsible for the operational expenses, food, security, maintenance, utilities, program compliance and evictions?

Amazingly, this development has not been analyzed for its cash flow effect on the district budget. Money that is spent on this from the general account is not available for professors’ classroom instruction and other college expenses.

Let’s agree that expending money for this dormitory is premature while we wait on guidelines to address our questions. The public deserves hearings to have questions answered. The college administration has not done its homework and the old adage “haste makes waste” applies.

The trustees should not move forward until the Michelle Jenkins vacancy on the board of trustees is filled and District 5 has representation. What is the hurry?

If you are one of the many concerned citizens… please let your voice be heard.

I recommend that the trustees not approve the contracts and that they be subject to a request for proposal (bid process). Let’s work together to build a community college that is designed to be cost-effective and serve district residents first. Our students and taxpayers deserve no less.

Steve Petzold

Santa Clarita

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