Santa Clara County: $108M Measure E facilities bond money a fair shake?

Gavilan College Trustee Tony Ruiz is concerned San Benito County isn’t getting its share of funding from the $108 million bond meant to improve college facilities and secure land for satellite campuses in Coyote Valley and San Benito County.
“They buy land to put a community college outside the city limit, across from a golf resort?” said Ruiz, who accused the college of running out of money to purchase good land. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Ruiz, who represents San Benito County on the Gavilan board, is referring to the plot of land called Fairview Corners north of Highway 25 near the Ridgemark Golf and Country Club that the college purchased with Measure E funds several years ago. The school also purchased a piece of property in Coyote Valley.
Trustees approved the purchase of Coyote Valley property for $21,124,060 —more than twice what had been allocated in the original master plan. In San Benito County, they spent $9,838,755—roughly $2.9 million less than was outlined in the same plan.
“The price difference is because land is quite a bit more expensive in San Jose,” said Steven Kinsella, Gavilan College’s superintendent and president.
The goal for both sites during the land acquisition process was the same: Get 80 acres—which is considered a full-size college campus by the state— in both areas, said Kinsella.
The end result was not quite what had been envisioned originally. The school brought home 55 acres in Coyote Valley for a sum that was millions of dollars higher than originally anticipated and a full 80 acres outside the city limits of Hollister in a rural area where Ruiz worries students will need a car to get to class.
“Before we did any of this, we had no idea what it would cost to get property in Santa Clara County,” said Trustee Tom Breen, who also represents San Benito County, as he reflected on the difference between what the college expected to spend and what it actually spent. “That was the best estimate at the time.”
Ruiz is concerned the new 80-acre site is located on the opposite side of town from Hollister’s lowest income residents and that students from this part of town would be the least likely to be able to afford the car they need to get to class.
“The luxury of having a car that I grew up with in the 50s is not a luxury any more that many young people can achieve,” Ruiz said. “In today’s world, you are really penalizing the poor when you put facilities that are only auto-dependent.”
While Gavilan purchased the properties several years ago, the topic is emerging again because this year marks the period in which all bond projects must be completed or at least started.
Gavilan College serves southern Santa Clara County—including Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill—plus all of San Benito County, according to the General Information page of the college’s Tentative Budget for the Fiscal Year of 2014-15. San Benito County typically has higher unemployment and lower income as compared with other parts of the Gavilan College service area, according to the same document.
“I ran (for trustee) primarily because of my concern on this one issue, and I felt that the poor students on the bottom half of the economic ladder would not be considered in terms of their cost,” Ruiz said.
Before purchasing the San Benito County property, school board trustees assessed 18 sites over about three years, rejecting properties because they did not meet state guidelines or it was a struggle to find two sites that had 80 acres all in one place, Kinsella said.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Kinsella said. “Some people aren’t happy, and I’m sorry they’re not, but I can’t help that.”
Kinsella pointed to strict state requirements and added that the cost and  size of the property also factored into purchasing decisions.
Ruiz had hoped the site of the future San Benito County campus would be within walking distance from downtown Hollister. He is part of a Hollister Independent New Urban Research Center group, which looks closely at city growth across the nation.
“Everywhere we look, we see that they’re building community colleges in places where there’s access to transportation, where students can ride their bikes, where they can walk,” Ruiz said.
For now, the college has purchased the properties, but construction is delayed pending the mitigation of some environmental issues at both sites, Kinsella said.
The bond also did not set aside money for construction at the satellite sites, meaning the college will have to find another source of funding for its new campuses.
“The money that we had from the bond wasn’t to do anything more than buy the land,” Kinsella said.
A Citizens’ Oversight Committee made up of community members, businessmen, students and taxpayers is charged with ensuring that revenue from Measure E is spent as promised in the language of the bond. The committee’s next meeting will include an update on Measure E activities and will be held at 6 p.m. Monday June 23 in the Student Center at Gavilan College.
Total amount of the bond: $108 million
Money allotted for satellite land acquisition:
Coyote Valley Property: $8,400,000
San Benito Property: $12, 800,000
Source: Facilities Master Plan 2006
Money spent:
Coyote Valley Property: $21,124,060
San Benito Property: $9,838,755
Source: Measure E Bond Budget Alignment from September 2012