City College teachers are trying to get money from the Board of Supes to make it through the next year without massive cuts. But any hope for that money seems to be caught up in a legal dispute between the city and the school over an obscure area of bond law.
It involves the school’s promise to spend $35 million from a 2020 bond act on renovating and expanding a facility in the Bayview – an area that historically has been underserved by City College.
Members of the teachers’ union, AFT Local 2121, have been asking the city for a supplemental budget allocation to stave off debilitating cuts that might damage the school beyond repair.
Both the union and the Community College Board agree that, unless the state changes its funding formula or the federal government provides new money, the school will need $30 million this year and a steady source of about $40 million more in local money to continue to serve as both a feeder school to four-year colleges and a source of non-credit local adult learning in areas like English as a Second Language.
The mayor is not terribly supportive of the idea of giving city money to the college at a time of tight budgets. (Although the money to save City College would be less than six percent of the police budget.)
So a supplemental budget allocation (the school needs $30 million for next year) would need eight votes on the Board of Supes.
That’s not likely to happen right now, because Board President Shamann Walton has made it clear he won’t give the college a penny unless it fulfills its promise to the Bayview.
“They have been trying to move that bond money away from this project, and I’m not going to tolerate it,” Walton told me. “I am sick of the way City College has ignored and mistreated the people in my district.”
From his Facebook post on this:
Right now as we speak, the leadership of city college is trying to renege on the 30 million dollars promised for the state of the art educational facility at 1550 Evans Street from the bond WE ALL FOUGHT FOR.
College Board President Shanell Williams told me she wants to spend the bond money on that facility, too. From her FB:
President Shamann Walton there is no reneging taking place. The 1550 Evans project is under legal review which we discussed with you and project leadership at the PUC. I find it shocking that you would not find this to be important given the situation at the PUC. I look forward to continuing to work with you and the new management to find a path forward. All I ask is that we don’t spread misinformation about the college and our leadership. This harms everyone especially our students and the community
Here’s the problem: The land where the facility would go is owned by the city, under the Public Utilities Commission.
There’s a lot of legal stuff going on here and nobody wants to talk much for the record, but here’s the gist: The College Board’s bond lawyers say that they can’t spend bond money building a facility on land they don’t own.
So they’re asking the city to give them the piece of land.
The city’s lawyers say they can’t give the land to the school – but are offering a long-term lease.
Will Reisman, spokesperson for the SFPUC, told me:
In March 2020, San Francisco voters passed Proposition A, an $845 million General Obligation bond measure to fund facility improvements at City College of San Francisco. That measure included a plan to build a new educational facility at 1550 Evans Avenue, which is owned by the SFPUC. CCSF’s Bond Oversight Committee is now saying that the best way for that educational facility to happen, land at 1550 Evans Avenue would need to be transferred for free to the college. Under law, SFPUC cannot give the land for free. We must receive fair market value for our land and there are surplus land transfer laws we must follow.
They are pulling a bait and switch saying that the SFPUC has to give them the property or they won’t support the commitment from the bond that we all were promised and fought for, even after their attorney originally said a long term lease is appropriate and after our city attorneys have vet this as well, and know it is appropriate.
Here’s what really happened, as far as I can tell from sources I trust: The former chancellor, Mark Rocha, put together the bond package and included the 1550 Evans facility. (The board should have been watching this more closely – but board members have no independent staff and work very part time, so they have to rely on the administration for information.)
At the time, there wasn’t much discussion about the issue of property ownership; nobody advised the College Board that this would be an issue (and apparently nobody asked) until after the bond act passed and the time to spend the money arrived.
At that point, the College Board asked for a legal opinion, and got one, and it says that a long-term lease isn’t good enough.
So now the College Board has a legal opinion saying they need to own the land (which nobody discussed when the bond act was on the ballot, and everyone understood that $35 million was going to the Evans Ave. project).
And the SFPUC has a legal opinion from the City Attorney’s Office saying it can’t transfer the land, only offer a long-term lease.
And until this can get sorted out and the Bayview can get the facility that it needs and deserves (and both boards seem to want), the supes are not going to give the school any more money.
I’m not a lawyer, but I know that the process for declaring city land surplus and disposing of it is long and complex. I have also always been told that a long-term lease (for, say, 50 or more typically 99 years) is about the same as a sale, legally. Whatever gets build there won’t last 99 years, and probably not 50.
City College is another public agency – but one completely distinct from the City and County of San Francisco. The Community College District and its board are chartered under state law.
The city attorney, of course, is Dennis Herrera, who is about to become the head of …. The SFPUC.
He didn’t call me back when I tried to reach him to talk about this. Since it’s all legal stuff, he probably couldn’t say anything anyway.
All I know formally from both sides is that “the lawyers are talking.” Nobody has walked away from the table.
It would seem that the parties ought to be able to settle this. Maybe they will. City College is a crucial — and very fragile — institution that can’t survive without community support. And in the end, the students — mostly young people and adults of color who desperately need this educational facility — are caught in the middle.
I can’t believe there isn’t a solution here.
In a different world, the mayor of San Francisco would tell the two parties to make that happen, so that the Bayview would get the facility and the discussion could move on to the need to fund City College.
That, however, is not the world we are living in.