Santa Monica College officials are considering asking voters to pass a $295-million bond for expansion and improvement projects.
The local community college’s board of trustees last month discussed placing on the November ballot a measure that, if approved, would bankroll widespread upgrades at the school as it seeks to strengthen its facilities and academic offerings while adapting to changes in student interests and workforce needs.
The college board next month will review a detailed report of building conditions and could vote as soon as July to put the bond initiative before voters in the upcoming election.
“We’ve been involved in a long process in bringing facilities up to standard and to meet current need,” said Don Girard, senior director of government relations and institutional communications at SMC. “We’ve established a facilities master plan that we’ve been following. We met the benchmarks of that plan, and this is a continuation of the work.”
Bond money would help the college “expand local access to affordable higher education in math, science, the arts, and business,” improve career training options and modernize facilities for digital media, biotechnology and other fields, according to an SMC report.
The proposed ballot language mentions the goal of improving earthquake readiness and emergency response at SMC, the site of a fatal shooting rampage in 2013.
The proposal also mentions reducing parking and traffic impacts, a hot topic as students and city residents prepare for the incoming Expo Line. The forthcoming light-rail route includes 17th Street station, which is a few blocks away from the college.
Bond money could also potentially support college-preparation classrooms at Santa Monica High School, which will undergo renovations in the coming decade.
The bond measure would include citizen oversight, annual updates and financial audits, according to an SMC report.
The proposed measure would build on a decades-long history of bond-backed projects at SMC, for which voters have approved four bond measures totaling more than $600 million since 1992. Money from those bonds has supported Center for Media and Design projects as well as the forthcoming student services building, the Early Childhood Education Center at the Santa Monica Civic Center site and the satellite Malibu campus.
“That will exhaust the funding,” Girard said. “We think it’s appropriate to celebrate the milestone and begin to be in a position to work with the state and the community to finish the modernization.”
SMC hired Goodwin Simon Strategic Research to conduct a telephone survey of voters in the college district to gauge the feasibility of passing a bond. Of the 604 voters reached in December, 69 percent expressed support for a new bond measure. In addition, 68 percent of the 929 voters reached in a door-to-door survey also favored a bond measure for the college, according to an SMC report.
“These are facilities that the community uses in many ways, both for classes as well as for community service programs, public presentations and athletic use,” Girard said. “All evidence is that maintaining and improving public facilities is a very good community benefit.”
But not everyone is happy about a potential SMC bond. Critics argue that expansion projects at the college have caused increased congestion in residential neighborhoods. And they believe local property owners should not be responsible for upgrading facilities at a school that recruits students from well beyond Santa Monica.
Zina Josephs, president of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood association, said her group supports public education but added that it would likely oppose a potential bond measure in November.
“We don’t hate education, we don’t hate the college, we don’t hate the students,” Josephs said. “And we know that if the Board of Trustees decides to put a bond measure on the ballot, it will undoubtedly pass. We just want [officials] to be aware that what [they] do at the college has a tremendous effect on the residents who live nearby.”