For a second time the San Diego Community College District Citizens Bond Oversight Committee listened to allegations of unfinished and poorly done work paid for by Proposition N money, a $870 million bond measure approved by voters in 2006.
The complaints from students and college employees ranged from allegations of sloppy work, promises for upgrades and improvements that were never delivered and the loss of valuable class time that can never be retrieved.
The alleged sloppy work includes a slanted studio floor, unfinished sound proofing and no TV cabling into the building designed to serve students studying television news.
Laura Castaneda is the former Chair of the Radio and Television News Department at City College. She resigned from her position as Chair in January, partially she said, because of the lack of response to her concerns about what she describes as poor work completed within her department by contractors and subcontractors.
“It was my understanding this committee was put together to keep track of money,” she said. “This is taxpayer money, community money, San Diego money.”
Proposition N is governed by an amendment to the California Constitution that includes provisions for accountability. The district must conduct an independent audit to ensure the money was spent for what it was intended.
“I don’t think there is a person in the room who (if they) bought a new house and the contractors didn’t do something right, you wouldn’t be on the phone the next day,” Castaneda said.
In January 2016, she said she warned the City College president at that time Anthony Beebe, there were numerous problems with the work that “has taken a tremendous toll on our enrollments.” She and students then took their complaints to the City College Board of Trustees. Not able to get a satisfactory response, Castaneda said, she and other faculty and students then reached out to the Bond Oversight Committee, twice. Their latest attempt at the January 2017 Bond Oversight Committee meeting, a year after her first warnings.
City College student James Smith joined Castaneda at that meeting, sharing concerns about how that bond money was spent.
“I got cheated out of the opportunity,” Smith, a former videographer for the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network, who has been training in City College’s radio and television program since 2010, said. “This is an award winning program that is successful in training future journalists, filmmakers and technicians, so why doesn’t it get the support due?”
During the January 9 meeting, Bond Oversight Committee members cited the most recent audit report and explained for the fifth year in a row, they have received a perfect audit.
“The Proposition N bonds were all used for the purpose they were set for,” announced the board's secretary.
Despite this, City College student John Sanders said he wonders why the warnings about poor workmanship were ignored.
“I am curious to know why nobody seems to respond to emails, questions,” Sanders said addressing the board and Constance Carroll, Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, who attended the meeting.
“The citizens oversight committee is not the committee to bring these concerns,” Carroll said in response.
Nick Marinovich, a member of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees and Chairman of the Sweetwater Bond Committee, said he disagrees.
“There are certainly some people on the committee that could help or review the allegations,” Marinovich said. The board is “the eyes and ears of the taxpayers.”
Marinovich reviewed documents provided to him by NBC 7 Investigates about the issues at City College. The documents included copies of Castaneda’s requests to school management as well as Proposition N financial statements and the auditor's report.
“There may be something to it, maybe not, but you owe the courtesy to the public where their money is being spent, especially the people that work in the area and know the details,” Marinovich said.
As to the “perfect” audit report for Prop N spending, Marinovich said all audits are not created equal; some audits do more than others. This audit, he said was limited to the financial statements and according to the audit report “not designed to identify all deficiencies in internal control” concluding “material weaknesses may exist that may have not been identified.”
After a series of meetings with college leaders, Castaneda said some of the promised wiring upgrades will be finished this summer. Still, she said, there are other issues that will not be completed, including a slanted studio floor, unfinished sound proofing, no software programs for news editing and writing and no TV cabling in the building.
In response to questions about the allegations from Castaneda and the others, the Community College District’s public information officer Jack Beresford said the district would not be commenting.
Specifically, NBC 7 Investigates wanted to know:
- Do district leaders believe they handled the complaints in a timely manner?
- Does the district support the Bond Oversight Committee position that the committee is not responsible for responding to issues raised about construction problems?
- Does the District ever consider other types of audits to review the work done under bond projects?