Guest View: Will our leaders fight for Gavilan’s future?

This sign was in front of the old courthouse in June 2014.

Gavilan College’s broken promises for a San Benito Education Center amount to a watershed event for our future. The county’s political and community leadership have a critical decision to make. Are they going to fight to force Gavilan College to restore commitment of the $108 million, 2004 Measure E bond, or are they going to slink away and write off decades of the county’s future and the futures of many of its residents who must have more educational opportunities closer to home?
Without an immediate change in the remaining Measure E budget or an ironclad commitment of other funds and on an aggressive schedule, the Hollister (San Benito) Education Center won’t be operational for decades; all the remaining bond money has been obligated to other projects. Nothing will be left for us except $10 million of empty land where an acquisition was both costly and ill-advised; typical of Gavilan’s risky, inept wheeling and dealing.
At a recent, local public meeting, Gavilan board members and administrators talked of baby steps and leasing as our foreseeable future and would not even estimate a schedule for consideration. That limited vision is lightyears from the urgency and bold, detailed promises they made to secure taxpayer dollars 12 years ago.
Measure E promised to establish College Education Centers in both the Morgan Hill and Hollister areas to accommodate growth and increasing student enrollment. They would provide permanent classrooms, labs, job training and college transfer counseling facilities with the improvements to be made with a combination of bond monies and state matching funds. In addition, the Morgan Hill Center would include the acquisition of sites, while the Hollister’s Center was to have included a library and a commitment to partner with a four-year university to allow residents to obtain a bachelor’s degree without commuting.
Gavilan sunk more than $21 million into the land for a Coyote Valley Project, 2.5 times the original budget of $8.4 million. Now it has more than $2 million spent and another $11 million in reserve just to start. After spending and obligating more than $34.3 million of Measure E funds to the Coyote Valley (Morgan Hill) project, Gavilan was still short for only Phase I, so it voted to lend the project’s first tenant $10 million in non-Measure E funds to get it off the ground—no tenant, no project. That $44.3 million total will result in only five single-story modular buildings—classrooms (we used to call them “temps”), specialized facilities for the police academy program, and the ability to hold “evening credit classes.”
Meanwhile, in addition to land in Hollister, which actually came in $3 million below the 2006 Facilities Master Plan budget, Gavilan budgeted and spent only a stingy $9,425 for the planning of the Hollister Education Center; no money for permanent classrooms, or labs, or a library, or added job training and college transfer counseling facilities and no partnership with a four-year university—no nothing that impacts the primary mission, education.
The residents of San Benito County are paying over $4 million dollars a year to Gavilan in regular property taxes, 32 percent of the college’s total property tax income. We also fund more than $1.5 million a year in Measure E payments. When the bonds are paid off, San Benito County residents will have covered more than $26 million, 24 percent, of the total at current allocation rates.
Measure E was passed under Proposition 39. Proposition 39 allowed school districts to pass bonds with 55 percent of the vote, instead of 66.67 percent, provided they met certain criteria, one of which was a list of specific projects to be funded. Without Prop. 39, this bond would have failed. The specific project promises for Measure E included both education centers, not just one in the Morgan Hill area.
Additionally, the tax measure provided that the improvements would be made with a combination of bond monies and “State matching funds.” Since the Measure E budget does not include any funding for a Hollister Education Center (land expenditures do not qualify), there will be no matching funds and no basis to request any. The availability of local matching funds is a large portion of the state’s decision process for funding of capital projects. In other words, we are not going to get anything because Gavilan did not put money aside for the Education Center as promised.
Gavilan kept changing its plans and priorities, eventually deciding to save the police academy at our expense and now using $10 million in additional interim funding to patch yet another hole in the budget. The only reason this is a “loan” is that the college was discovered promising to use Measure E to pay for the relocation of The Academy.
Put it all together and the situation is clear—we were taken for a ride.
I cannot honestly tell you if that was Gavilan’s original intention to divert the funding to Morgan Hill, as I believe, or just the result of a series of very poor decisions—bordering on incompetency—that dug the college in deeper and deeper. Either way, the result was the same; the San Benito Education Center was the sacrificial lamb.
One question does remain: Do our local leaders who spend so much time talking about the future and fiscal responsibility care enough to do anything about it? Short of a lawsuit, they cannot force the current Gavilan board to do the right thing, but they can point out officially to Sacramento how the board failed to act in our interests. We can support candidates that will make a positive difference in the future and at least complain mightily to the California attorney general, the state controller and our legislators; that could at least result in an investigation. Will they at least try and fight for the county’s future? We shall see.
Marty Richman is a Hollister resident and former Free Lance columnist.

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