Monday, July 10, 2017

The origins of our college district, Part 1: Hey, kids! Let's form our own JC district!

Larry Taylor
     IN THIS POST: this is the 1st in an 8-part series about the early days of the district.
     As communities grow, schools are built, and, naturally, communities seek to provide "junior" (later, "community") colleges for high school graduates not attending 4-year institutions. Normally, the creation of junior/community colleges is pursued by high school districts.
     Since the end of WW II, Orange County has been one of the growingest places in the country. But, until the 60s, most of the growing occurred in the north half of the county, leaving the entire South County area lightly populated and collegeless.
     By 1960, the largest town in "South County"—if one regards Tustin and Irvine as forming the northern border of that area—was the City of Tustin, with San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo (unincorporated), and San Juan Capistrano trailing behind.
     By the early 60s, Tustinites hoped to overcome the college-less-ness of their own community. In April of 1963, Tustin Union High School board members discussed creating a fourth college district—beyond Orange Coast, Santa Ana, and North OC—to serve Tustin Union, Laguna Beach, and Capistrano high school districts. This early group, at least in Tustin, tended to assume that this South County district's first college would be built in or near Tustin.
     By October of '63, three South County high school districts met and announced a plan to form a fourth junior college district; the group planned to hire a firm to explore feasibility. Participating in the meeting were the Tustin, Capo Union, and Laguna Beach districts. They were also considering the alternatives: joining the already-established Santa Ana or Orange Coast community college districts, just to the north. Larry Taylor of Laguna Beach was the chair of the "inter-district committee."
     A year later, officials of the Orange Coast and Santa Ana districts were considering an incompatible plan: uniting the two into a mega district, which would expand further by taking on all coast and South County high school districts, including Tustin, San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Beach.
     By March of '65, Tustin, Laguna and Capistrano school districts were discouraging the notion of including them in a mega-college district. They wanted their own district. Meanwhile, the plan to unite the Orange Coast and Santa Ana junior college districts was still on.
     At the time, an agency called the "Orange County Committee on School District Organization" (OCCSDO) existed. That body sought to persuade the South County crowd to join the proposed northern super-district. To that end, OCCSDO invited reps from the southern school districts to its April 1 meeting. The Tustin-Laguna-Capistrano crowd were agreeable, but it was already clear that they wanted to explore setting up their own JC district, and they needed time to speak with the Capo people in particular about that plan.
     By May, Tustin Union authorized its superintendent to "explore further" the "cost and scope of studies regarding feasibility of the formation of a new junior college district."
     By November, the Tustin school board gave the "Tustin/southern" proposal the green light, and, consequently, establishing the new junior college district "is in the active planning stages."
     The other southern boards—Laguna and Capo—had done likewise. They were on board.
     These school districts prepared for a Nov. 17 meeting of OCCSDO to seek formation of the 4th district. If OCCSDO was agreeable, the proposal would next go to the state. If the state would give its okey-dokey, next would come an election, in September or October of 1966. —RB

Laguna Beach's Larry Taylor
(1914-1991)
     One thing I've learned after all these years of reporting on our colleges and our county government is that events that might seem like they should be apolitical get seriously political, fast, in the good old OC.
     Take the origins of the South Orange County Community College District—formerly the Saddleback Junior College District—back in the 1960s. I'm trying to piece this saga together based on available news clippings. 
     But it ain't easy.

     APRIL 1963. Here's how junior (community) colleges come into being. For every public high school, ideally, there should be a community college nearby for the kids to continue with their studies. Thus, typically, where there are two or three high school districts, eventually, a community college will be founded to serve those students.
     Way back in 1960, Orange County was essentially a handful of smallish towns strewn amid agriculture and ranching. It didn't have much of a population. But, starting about then,* it developed very quickly (to the horror of many natives!).
     [*More accurately, here’s how the population grew in OC: 
  • 130K in 1940, 
  • 216K in 1950, 
  • 704K in 1960, and 
  • 1,400,000 in 1970. 
Tustin's Robert Dahlberg
(1921-1993)
Thus "explosive growth" occurred already in the 1940s and 1950s.]
     The region of the county with the fewest towns was south county—I remember the drive down to San Juan Capistrano starting from the Marine base; to my young mind it was endless miles of citrus groves and wide-open ranch land—and that meant that towns like San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach were the last to get community colleges. So, natch, by the 60s, those folks were carpin'.
     According to an April 4, 1963, article in the Tustin Times (see below), Tustin Union High School board members were discussing pursuit of a new junior college district to serve Tustin Union, Laguna Beach, and Capistrano high school districts. Officials from TUHS toured Oceanside and Palomar junior colleges, which are similar to some Orange County junior college districts.
     Officials from the three school districts who could not make the trips down south were invited to a TUHS board meeting to be brought "up to date." Attendance figures and similar data were promising and cause for "further study."
     The people of Tustin were smilin'.

Tustin News, April 4, 1963
     OCTOBER 1963. On October 16, 1963, the LA Times reported that a group of officials of three south county high school districts were "considering forming a junior college district" (see below). To that end, they hoped to hire an agency to perform a feasibility study.
     Participating in the meeting were the Tustin, Capo Union, and Laguna Beach districts. They were also considering the alternatives: joining the already-established Santa Ana or Orange Coast community college districts.
     According to the article, the group planned to meet again in early November to move forward with the study.
     Larry Taylor of Laguna Beach—who will eventually serve as a trustee of the south county district, starting in 1974—was the chair of the "inter-district committee."
     Leaders of the three districts had already made "enrollment and assessed valuation projections," which were very promising.
     These people were serious.
LA Times, October 16, 1963
     OCTOBER 1964. Back in 1964, there were two college districts in central OC: the Santa Ana JC District (now, "Rancho Santiago") and the Orange Coast JC District (now, "Coast"). (The switch from "junior" to "community" came later.) As the LA Times article explains below, officials from these districts were then contemplating collapsing the two into one super-district—and extending the geographical zone of that district into south county (San Clemente seems to be excluded) and Garden Grove.
     Why would they want to do that? Well, in part, the answer is that state law required all school districts to be in (or to be slated to be in) a junior college district by 1967. 
     South County (leaving aside San Clemente?) was at that time unaffiliated with any JC district—and, in fact, much of that population had to travel far to go to a JC. They carped about it all the time. Where's our Junior College? What about us!
LA Times, October 1, 1964
     According to the Times article, "Only areas of the county not now in a junior college district are the Orange and Laguna Beach Unified School Districts and Garden Grove, Tustin and Capistrano Union High School Districts." I'm assuming that the writer meant to put "the" in front of that sentence, 'cause, otherwise, it makes no sense. 
     So the Santa Ana and OC groups were struck by this imperialistic urge; they saw an opportunity, and they were going for it. [Or no?]
     The article refers to preliminary work done by the two districts. Mr. Watson of Orange Coast had already met with officials in Orange, Laguna, Capistrano, and Garden Grove. 
     Why not Tustin?
     I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that Tustin is a city that has long taken itself mighty seriously. Tustinites are proud of their city and they don't like getting pushed into any idea that isn't their own. Not a bit.

LA Times, March 26, 1965
     MARCH 1965. Nearly six months later, this article (below) appears in the Times. It explains that folks from Tustin, Laguna Beach, and Capistrano were just saying "cool your jets" to the above-mentioned mega-district dream. Obviously, they wanted a district of their own.
 
     Evidently, the plan to consolidate the Santa Ana and Orange Coast districts, and to "include" Orange and Garden Grove school districts in that aggregation, was still on.
     That's odd. We all know that, in fact, subsequently, Santa Ana (now "Rancho Santiago") and OCC (now "Coast") JC [i.e., CC] districts have remained distinct, although Garden Grove is now part of the Coast CC District and Orange is now part of the Rancho Santiago CC District.
     The article refers to the "Orange County Committee on School District Organization" (OCCSDO), an agency that still exists. That body (created, I believe, by state legislation) sought to persuade the South County crowd to join the proposed northern super-district. (Why?) To that end, OCCSDO invited reps from the southern school districts to its April 1 meeting. The Tustin-Laguna-Capistrano crowd were agreeable, but it was already clear that they wanted to explore setting up their own JC district, and they needed time to speak with the Capo people in particular about that plan. 
     Nothing was decided yet. 
     Why is the County taking sides between the advocates of the "southern" and "mega" proposals? 

     MAY 1965. A month later, this brief article (below) appears in the Tustin News. It explains that Tustin Union's Superintendent, Robert Dahlberg, was authorized (by the TUHS board) to "explore further" the "cost and scope of studies regarding feasibility of the formation of a new junior college district." 
     —That's quite a sentence. 
     Dahlberg will explore the possibility of asking UC Berkeley or Stanford  to conduct the "studies." 
     It sounds like Laguna's already on board, but their financial participation has not been secured. It remains to be determined whether Capo will be included in the new southern district.

Tustin News, May 20, 1965
     NOVEMBER 1965. A few months later, this article (below) appears, again in the Tustin News. Essentially, it reports on the latest TUHS board meeting.
     We learn that the Tustin school board has given the "Tustin/southern" proposal the green light, and, consequently, establishing the new junior college district "is in the active planning stages."
     The other southern boards—Laguna and Capo—have done likewise. So they're on board.
     (I bet that, at this point, the Santa Ana and Orange Coast folks are pissed.)
     Reps of the three districts have met with a county official in preparation for a presentation to the OCCSDO on Nov. 17. If the OCCSDO are agreeable, the proposal next goes to the state. If the state gives its okey-dokey, next comes an election, in September or October of 1966.
     Tustin's Dahlberg seems to be the point person. He's armed with a study comparing the "south district" possibility with the "mega-district" alternative. The data suggest that the cost per student would be lower for the "south district" plan. (Tustinites are all about saving money.)
     There's some weirdness. Evidently, "some months ago," the Tustin school board requested data from the county, and they're still waiting for it. The board registered a "strong protest." Is the county taking sides between the Southerners and the Imperialists?

Tustin News, November 4, 1965

Tustin
     I'll have more soon.
     It's beginning to look like Tustin may have been the key player in establishing our district. That fact (if it is a fact) helps explain the city's reaction, in 1977, to the Saddleback district board's changing its mind (after an election reconfigured the board) about building the district's long-awaited "north campus" in Tustin, at Myford and Bryan (near what became the Tustin Marketplace). At the urging of the Irvine Company, they switched to the Irvine site (on Jeffrey and Irvine Center Drive). 
     The action was supported by none other than the district Faculty Association.
     More on that later.

     See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

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