North County Report: Palomar College Reckons With Past Bond Promises - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: Palomar College Reckons With Past Bond Promises

Community college district leaders are debating how to spend the last of their bond funds, an Oceanside city councilman encourages non-essential businesses to defy public health orders and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

Palomar College. / Photo courtesy of the community college district

The economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is infiltrating every aspect of public life, including school construction.

In a heated meeting on Zoom, Palomar College’s governing board members disagreed Tuesday on how the community college district should spend its remaining bond funds considering that voters are unlikely to approve another bond in the near future. Although the district has begun many of the maintenance and modernizing projects on its list, district officials said they don’t have enough funding to complete all of them as promised in 2006 under Proposition M

As of February 27, the district reported having $151,500,000 to spend and several projects of varying costs to complete. A few of the unfinished projects outlined in a presentation to the board Tuesday include an education center in Fallbrook, an athletic complex, a second phase of the student union and an administration building

Jack Kahn, acting superintendent and president of Palomar College, and Daniel Lynds, the college’s athletic director, on behalf of the district’s Strategic Planning Council, proposed using a large portion of the remaining funds to complete projects in the athletic, kinesiology and health departments on the main San Marcos campus and a Student Services welcome and retention center.

But board members Norma Miyamoto and John Halcon argued the district had already made a promise to communities in Bonsall and Fallbrook to update the facilities at those sites. Tuesday’s proposal included $10 million for beautification of the Fallbrook site, but Miyamoto and Halcon said that’s not enough.

Miyamoto said her main reason to run for the college board was to make certain Fallbrook and Bonsall communities didn’t get stuck with a mobile buildings but would enjoy the same facilities as everyone else at the main campus. “It’s important for community leaders to remember that promise,” she said. She said she’s concerned Latino and Native American communities in Fallbrook are being left behind despite expected growth for the region in Fallbrook.

Halcon echoed her sentiment and said the college’s responsibility is to grow in North County and he feels the district is shortchanging the northern centers of the college.

“We’ve got a trailer park out there now. It’s not acceptable. We have a Latino community and a reservation out there and we made a promise to them… What about the equity? Why do people of color and people in reservations always get the short end of the stick when it comes to dollars?” he said.

He said he’s concerned another bond proposal tentatively scheduled for the 2022 ballot won’t pass and those communities won’t get upgraded buildings anytime soon.

Board member Mark Evilsizer and others said they were concerned that the administration’s proposal to use the funds on the main campus did not incorporat data from SANDAG or the county about projected growth in the region.

“We made a promise to the Fallbrook community,” Evilsizer said. “The failed bonds of the recent election are not going to get any better with the COVID-impacted depression or recession. I strongly support putting money to support where the growth is going to occur and what best benefits the district.”

Kahn pushed back on the argument that the district hasn’t served Latino communities well.

“San Marcos has almost the exact same proportion of students of color as Fallbrook does.,” he said. “Absolutely our Fallbrook community deserves it, but putting infrastructure on our main campus will serve largely students of color. Please don’t misunderstand our main campus is predominately people of color.”

At the same time,  the board’s vice president Nina Deerfield proposed spending the funds on a center on the main campus for DREAMers.

Kahn said while the region is growing in Fallbrook, the growth is pretty mild. He also said he expects the district is going to end up with empty buildings there for two or three years, but may be full in 10 or more years.

“We’re going to need to choose a direction and we’re not going to be able to do everything,” he said. “All of us as a group are in a rotten situation. Things were promised to people at different times. Now it’s our problem to deal with.”

Miyamoto expressed regret that the district could no longer complete everything on the Prop M list. “We’re going to break someone’s heart about what was promised,” she said.

The board ultimately decided to hit pause on the conversation because they couldn’t come to any consensus.

Meanwhile, other financial concerns loom. Palomar College was assigned a state fiscal monitor to watch its spending after the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team in November reported the district was on the brink of being fiscally insolvent in two years if it kept up its spending patterns.

Julie Lanthier Bandy, a spokeswoman for the district, told VOSD in an email Monday that the district has made some significant changes to its expenditures as officials look ahead to the next fiscal year. However, she also highlighted the state’s projected $18 billion shortfall for K-12 districts.

“The extent of the impact is still being analyzed and the Governor’s “May Revise” to the budget will be more telling,” she wrote.

inewsource reported the college district has so far spent at least $1.3 million in coronavirus-related expenses and has since imposed a hiring freeze. Bandy said a breakdown of spending was not immediately available.

Councilman Urges Businesses to Defy Public Health Orders

Officials in Oceanside disagree on when non-essential businesses should be allowed to open — causing uncertainty among business owners in town and disarray for the city’s police force.

It began on Saturday, when Oceanside City Councilman Christopher Rodriguez called on non-essential businesses to reopen in defiance of state and county public health orders.

“I’m convinced that the constitutional rights of Oceanside residents and businesses have been trampled upon and I choose to take a stand,” he wrote in an open letter. Rodriguez encouraged non-essential business-owners who “share in his convictions” to open immediately and called on like-minded Oceanside residents to “safely patronize and support these businesses.”

Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss released a statement hours later separating the city’s official stance from Rodriguez’s personal views. “Neither the city council, nor individual council members have the authority to direct any business to violate county health orders,” Weiss wrote. He said Oceanside police will ensure that the Oceanside business community follows the public health orders and reminded businesses they are subject to the county health officer’s orders regarding business operations.

On Tuesday, the Oceanside Police Officers’ Association criticized Rodriguez for adding “confusion and fuel” to an already politicized issue.  Police recently arrested a gym owner for allegedly violating the county’s public health order and charged him with obstructing and delaying an officer, the Union-Tribune reported.

In response, Rodriguez said Oceanside businesses have no other choice but to operate and survive. “I encourage us all to lead with empathy during this time of economic struggle,” he wrote.

What We’re Working On

  • Encinitas and a local nonprofit partnered to house more than 80 homeless people in hotels after the state urged cities to help those individuals find a safe place to isolate. I reported on how only 22 vouchers of those were renewed, forcing the remaining voucher-holders to suddenly return to the streets or their cars. Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote in a corresponding op-ed that some of the city’s solutions might not be totally successful, but city staff are spending time and energy on the possibility of success.
  • Lisa Halverstadt and Ashly McGlone report that while the city and county saw almost immediate money in the bank to combat the health crisis, the remaining 17 cities across the region are left with smaller pittances and strings attached.
  • Wednesday night, McGlone and I will moderate a live virtual town hall on school safety in the age of online learning. We’ve covered sexual misconduct in schools for a while now and decided to bring together San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, San Diego Unified board trustee Richard Barrera and others to talk about what’s happening in the region’s schools and in law enforcement to prevent and respond to teacher misconduct during the coronavirus pandemic. Watch the discussion on VOSD’s social channels: Facebook, YouTube and Periscope.

In Other News

  • The Del Mar Fairgrounds is asking for $20 million in emergency aid from the state to help cover the loss of revenue from now cancelled events like the San Diego County Fair. (Union-Tribune)
  • After two failed attempts to fill a vacancy — left by late councilman John Masson — in Escondido by appointment, the City Council will put the decision to voters in November. (Union-Tribune)
  • Encinitas is ditching its red-light camera program, which cost it more than $10,200 a month, after a split 3-2 City Council vote. (Union-Tribune)
  • The next phase of construction on a project to stabilize the Del Mar bluffs has begun. It’s expected to cost about $5.8 million. (Union-Tribune)
  • And finally, California State University Chancellor Tim White announced Tuesday the state’s 23-college system, which includes Cal State San Marcos and San Diego State University, will be largely virtual in the fall. (EdSource)
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