The $375 million Santa Monica College bond appearing on the November ballot is facing strong opposition in the Malibu community.
This year’s college bond is designed to make improvements and expansions to Santa Monica College’s main campus on Pico Boulevard including replacing temporary classrooms and an “obsolete” shop-lab, constructing an SMC Police Department substation, matching state and private funds toward building student housing, and adding and expanding facilities for health programs.
Though this year’s college bond has found broad support in Santa Monica, on Monday, Malibu City Council passed a resolution denouncing the bond, which it says imposes “grossly disproportionate” financial burdens on Malibu residents.
“If it’s approved, it will impose a debt on our residents of approximately $125 million, plus interest, in exchange for next to nothing or nothing,” Malibu Councilmember Bruce Silverstein said about the bond during the Monday, Oct. 10, Malibu City Council meeting. “What we’re being told is that … they will spend 20 million of it on a performing arts center in Malibu, but there’s no legal obligation for them to do that. That’s just a statement of intent. And even if it were going to be an ironclad obligation, they’re asking us to spend $125 million to get back $20 million.”
Although Malibu has a much smaller population than Santa Monica, its sky-high property values mean it pays more per capita for any bonds it shares with Santa Monica. Since 2018, Malibu and Santa Monica K-12 school projects have been funded through separate school bonds, but Malibu is still part of the same community college bond district with Santa Monica, meaning the small community can be out-voted on bonds that do not necessarily benefit their own residents or interests to the same degree they benefit Santa Monica’s.
The unanimous, 5-0, Malibu City Council resolution states, in part, that “many residents are under the misimpression that Measure SMC is needed for construction of the Santa Monica College Malibu Campus, which was, in fact, financed through prior bond measures – with the entire cost of the campus borne by Malibu residents,” later adding that, “Malibu residents should not be forced to foot a $125 million bill for the benefit of the City of Santa Monica, the City of Los Angeles, and the many other municipalities whose residents benefit from the expansion of Satna [sic] Monica College facilities in Santa Monica.”
Several Malibu City Council members said they had little to no communication with SMC representatives in the weeks and months leading up to the election.
“I discussed this with the community college … at least a year ago, and the idea was floated about helping to pay for something in Malibu,” Malibu Councilmember Mikke Pierson said. “I said, ‘You’re on the right track. That sounds great,’ you know, ‘If you make a compelling case, I’ll help sell it.’ You know, [that was the] last I heard. I never heard back. No more communication.”
Fellow Council Member Steve Uhring recalled something similar.
“I’ve heard nothing from Santa Monica, right? I mean that nobody’s talked to me and said, ‘Here’s why they should be doing this,’” Uhring said. “I mean, I don’t think they’ve done any kind of a job or made any effort to try and convince anybody in Malibu.”
Malibu makes up about 15% of the total votes between the two communities, but its councilmembers said they believed a united opposition from the Malibu community could constitute the “swing vote” necessary to sink the bond, which requires at least 55% approval in order to pass.
Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs (SMMPTA) analysis showed that the average cost per year for Santa Monica homeowners would be about $293.19, compared to an estimated annual cost of $796.15 for Malibu homeowners.
Elected officials including Richard Bloom, Ben Allen, Sheila Kuehl, Gleam Davis and Lana Negrete endorsed the measure, according to the report, alongside scores of Santa Monica residents, business leaders and organizations. The SMMPTA Measure SMC analysis only listed 10 opponents, none of which were Malibu residents; it was not clear how many Malibu residents had been asked to weigh in on the analysis.
In response to Malibu’s outspoken opposition to the bond, Santa Monica College provided the Daily Press with a lengthy statement on behalf of SMC Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Louise Jaffe.
The statement began by pointing out that Measure SMC was endorsed by the SMMPTA.
“We know that Malibu High School has suffered one of the largest drops in enrollment in California over the past eight years, from 1,107 students in 2015 to 412 students in 2022,” Jaffe said in the written statement. “SMC is committed to helping build new media studies facilities at Malibu High School using Measure SMC funds. We do so in hopes of helping to both stabilize the program and to recruit new families to the high school.”
Jaffe went on to highlight SMC’s film production program, which she said was envisioned to be “a significant addition to the building up of a robust media studies program at Malibu High.”
“SMC’s current involvement in Malibu will be enhanced by a new satellite campus that opens in spring 2023,” Jaffe went on. “Santa Monica College invested over $80 million in facilities and support to bring the community college promise of affordable and quality higher education to the Malibu community—an amount far beyond the college’s original commitment.”
Jaffe said SMC would continue to provide “many more millions of dollars” toward the SMC Malibu Campus as well as “tens of millions of dollars towards the new media studies facilities at Malibu High School.”
“In a fraught world, the promise of community colleges—that most democratic of American institutions, exemplified by Santa Monica College and its mission of providing affordable, accessible, world-class education—is even more critical,” Jaffe concluded. “In doing so, the communities SMC serves are a beacon of democracy and equity, proving that building a better world is truly in each of our hands.”
Election Day is Nov. 8; learn more about the election at santamonica.gov/elections/2022-11-08 and lavote.gov