Any potential revenue for community college projects in these trying economic times is typically welcome with open arms. But not for one environmental group at the College of San Mateo.
A student group, Friends of CSM Gardens, is protesting the $564 million bond measure that the San Mateo County Community College School District Board of Trustees approved on Aug. 10 to place on the November ballot. The bond measure will fund the 125 to 200 space parking lot that will replace a historic garden that houses several species.
The group is also still steaming over the elimination of the horticulture department building and the 6,000 square-foot greenhouse, while the bond measure money will be spent towards finishing incomplete projects, according to Board Vice President Dave Mandelkern.
The bond measure will also fund class renovations and building upgrades to meet the American Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, which were planned in the 2006 capital improvement projects master plan. The Board also passed a $207 million bond in 2001 and a $468 million bond in 2005.
The money will also fund a brand new science building at , Mandelkern said.
The school district had lost a significant amount of money it had counted on due to lack of funding from the state and money lost by the county from the Lehman Brothers investment. The county has made budget cuts of $25 million over the past three years and even sustained an 18.5 budget reduction over the past four years, according to Michael Claire, President of the College of San Mateo.
“We didn’t get to spend it as we thought we were,” Mandelkern said.
District leaders at the board meeting said they were confident that the bond would pass, based on a recent survey showing voter support of 65 percent, when a bond only needs 55 percent to pass.
Though bond monies cannot be spent on teacher salaries or to balance budgets, they can be used for green projects that conserve energy, which will ultimately benefit the district in the long-run, Mandelkern said.
“It’s a double win,” Mandelkern said. “And it will reduce our utility bills and free us from any PG&E debt.”
Yet Floral Club president, Beth Covey who is spearheading the bond protest, said that students are protesting because the bond money is not going to be used for projects that really matter to them.
“We don’t want to waste taxpayers’ money on projects that won’t get completed,” Covey said. “The public needs to be more informed about where their money is going.”
Several departments, including American Sign Language, Japanese, Italian, Humanities, Meteorology and Horticulture, were discontinued in an attempt to balance the interest and demand for certain programs versus other programs. Students from the student government participated in on-going discussions that began more than a year ago about which departments to cut.
While it is difficult to choose keeping some programs other others, the district does not have enough money to run all the programs it would like, said Trustee Patricia Miljanich at the board meeting.
“Just as she decided what she wanted to do with her life, they’re closing the floral design program,” said Lou Covey, Beth Covey’s father.
Students who are currently enrolled in the programs could complete their degree or certificate requirements, assured Claire, but new students would not be accepted into the programs. Students who want to take courses would be advised that the courses would only be available for one year.
Members in the community spoke in favor of the horticulture industry at the board meeting and what a detriment to society this would be.
“It’s not a dying industry,” said Terry Lyngso, president and owner of landscaping materials company Lyngso Gardens in Redwood City. “We need education for people going into the industry.”
There is a growing organic farming industry on the county coast, Lyngso said, and the entire landscaping industry in the county could benefit from keeping this program in the college. There are only 12 floral design programs across the country, including the College of San Mateo’s,according to Lou Covey.
“The department felt blindsided by this decision,” said Beth Covey.
In addition to fighting the bond measure, she and other students are preparing a lawsuit against the school for not complying with what they believe to be appropriate environmental analysis of the proposed parking lot. All development projects require an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to analyze how a development could affect the surrounding environment. She says the school did not prepare a report for the parking lot.
“I consider myself a rigid environmentalist and I believe the administration has not followed the rules set forth by the CEQ Act,” said Shawn Kann, a college student acting as the petitioning group's spokesperson. He he joined the fight to save the garden four months ago, after nearly a year's objections by students, faculty and community members had done little to dent the demolition plans.
To begin their campaign, students will be canvassing the neighborhood and answering any questions about the bond measure.
“We want to encourage people to see where their taxpayer money has gone instead of just voting “yes” because schools need the money,” Beth Covey said.
contributed to this report.