Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The origins of our college district, Part 5: Tustinites revolt!

IN THIS POST: I explain the details of the (ultimately failed) effort, among grumbling Tustinites in 1973-4, to remove Tustin from the Saddleback Community College District. —RB


     The July 18, 1973, LA Times reported that “a group of Tustin residents has organized to promote the transfer of the Tustin Unified School District into the Rancho Santiago Community College District”—and out of the Saddleback Community College District.
     The primary issue: the distance to Saddleback College for Tustinites. 20 miles. The group’s leader, Shepard Kanarek, a relatively new member of the community, was circulating a petition.

* * *

     A day later, the Tustin News ("Unified board hears request on local district transfer") reported that Kanarek had formally requested support for his endeavor from the Tustin Unified School District. He noted that, at that point, Saddleback College was mostly just a group of portable buildings, not an established college with permanent facilities. Further, transferring Tustin Unified out of Saddleback would provide significant tax advantages to Tustin residents.
     “Were you a member of the community when the district was formed” asked the Tustin Unified board president.
     “No,” said Kanarek, “but I have been informed that the location of the school was not apparent at that time to the voters….”
     Various officials poked at Kanarek’s alleged factoids.
     Kanarek said he was pursuing a petition, which, if successful, could force a vote in the community. He had looked it up the Ed Code.

* * *


     An August 30 article in the Tustin News explained that Kanarek’s group was actively pursuing the petition, aiming at the required 8000 signatures. Kanarek asserted that Tustin taxpayers would save about $437,000 by moving the TUHS out of the Saddleback district.
     “When the Saddleback District was established…, the location of the college site was not yet chosen….,” he said.
     Superintendent Fred Bremer defended Saddleback College, saying that it was doing quite well “for an embryo College.” He noted the successful construction of the college’s first permanent building, the Library. He explained that, when Saddleback does not offer a particular course, students can go to other colleges in the area where the course is offered. He noted, too, that if a large number of students were to transfer to Santa Ana College, that would increase the taxes of Rancho Santiago area residents who would need to construct buildings to accommodate them.

* * *

     On Sept. 20 ("Bremer Sets Record Straight," Tustin News), Bremer was reported as asserting that Kanarek’s group was promulgating false statements and he wished to set the record straight. He made a presentation at the recent meeting of the Tustin Unified District board meeting, where he explained that Saddleback’s student-teacher ratio was in fact much better than Kanarek and his group had claimed. Also, contrary to Kanarek, the district was perfectly willing to issue inter-district permits to students in need of them. In fact, Kanarek himself had been granted two such permits.
     Saddleback College trustee and Tustin resident, Hans Vogel, raised various questions; they led to this key query: “even though the students were transferred out of the Saddleback District…would not prior bond commitments voted by the citizens still have to be honored”?
     Bremer wasn’t sure about that but said he’d find out.

* * *

     On November 15, the Tustin News reported on the latest meeting of the Saddleback Community College District, where Kanarek had come to explain the purpose of his petition. He reported that his group had thus far collected 7000 signatures. Only 8000 were needed, he said. He added that he had a supportive “resolution” from the Rancho Santiago (Santa Ana College) board.
     Kanarek again argued the distance issue, the availability of courses issue, and the relative quality of facilities issue. “I came to the impression…that Rancho Santiago would be more responsive to the needs of the Tustin community….”
     But Saddleback trustees were prepared:
     Saddleback trustee Mike Collins noted that the district “was formed 6½ years ago by an overwhelming vote including the people of Tustin.”
     Collins noted that the Mission Viejo site [where Saddleback College now sits] was selected because it was in the center of the district, with Tustin and San Clemente being at each extreme. He added that the district had an extensive financial commitment to the site and that the last bond issue of $25 million, which included plans or a site nearer to Tustin, was defeated. “Until taxpayers are so inclined for a new campus, we have to further develop the present site,” said he. He also called the petition action, “Choosing to repudiate the mandate of the people in midstream.”
     Trustee Donna Berry asked a zinger:
since Kanarek had been in contact with Rancho Santiago board to get support and with Tustin Unified board, why had he not been in touch with the Saddleback board [?]
     Ms. Berry further noted that Saddleback had “received several letters from residents of Rancho Santiago District stating the school is already overcrowded.”
     “I do not think you have done anything to see if we could work together,” she declared.
     After the meeting, Berry speculated that Kanarek had been “promised some political favors in [the Rancho Santiago] district.”
     Board President John Lund had another zinger:
     Lund…noted that of 454 inter-district permits given to Tustin students, 278 chose [relatively distant] Orange Coast and only 141 chose [nearby] SAC. “It does not seem to me that the distance factor adds up.”
     Trustee Vogel, who had only a few years ago been key to Saddleback’s birth, was more conciliatory:
     “I cannot dispute your argument,” [he said]. I have had very good friends of mine who have signed the petition. But looking from a legal standpoint, I think there are going to be roadblocks.” One such roadblock would be the state board of education, said Vogel. He thought that [that] board would be more inclined to ask Rancho Santiago to take care of Garden Grove first which at present is in no community college district. … Vogel said he also saw a constitutional problem arising since a 2/3 vote of the people created the district and only a majority vote was needed to pull out….
     Petition manager Bill Patterson stated, “What do you say to people…when you tell them that the nearest community college is 4 miles away, but they have to go over 20 miles the other way?”

* * *

     In the Times ("Petitioners claim enough signatures," 12/15), Kanarek claimed that his group, College Committee of Tustin, had collected over 8000 signatures from Tustin residents, “fulfilling the goal of 25% of the registered voters in the Tustin Unified School District.” If, now, the “State Board of Education goes along with the proposal…, an election would be called.”

* * *

     In January (“District Plan Updating Asked at Saddleback,” Tustin News, January 24), “when the campus master plan for Saddleback College was brought to trustees…for updating approval, the district board also requested updating of the District Master Plan with the Tustin situation given as a major reason for doing so.”
     So, clearly, the board was treating the “Tustin Problem,” as it was called, seriously.
     Trustee Al Brannon—who had just announced his resignation [owing to bookmaking and extortion charges!]—reported that
he had received a feeler from Rancho Santiago Community College District. [Maybe somebody wanted to place a bet.] He said the feeler mentioned Rancho Santiago’s problems with the Orange community which felt it was not being served in conjunction with Saddleback’s problems in Tustin. The feeler suggested a possible merger of the two districts.
     Brannon seemed to warm to the idea.
     Hans Vogel, however, was not impressed. “I’m beginning to feel like I’m at a wake…,” he said.
     “I’m not about to give any part of this district to Rancho Santiago.”
     He added that he did not think Saddleback College District had been as responsive to portions of the district as it could have been [an impressive admission], but he felt that even the state would object to such a merger. He said he also objected to the Tustin petition stating that taxes would be lower if Tustin joined Rancho Santiago stating this would not be the case by next year. “I am not interested in what Rancho Santiago has to say. I am interested in what Tustin people have to say.”
     Superintendent Fred Bremer agreed. He also said he thought that the district master plan should be redone “by professionals.”
     In Vogel’s mind, the Tustin problem could be ameliorated by bringing “the classrooms to the people.” That is, bring more Saddleback instructors up to Tustin.
     Bremer noted that pursuit of Kanarek’s plan might jeopardize existing funding for the new music-arts building.

* * *

     In February (see “Kanarek Reports on progress of JC Petition,” Tustin News, Feb. 21), Kanarek reported that the Board of Governors (in Sacramento) had received his group’s petition and that the County “Voter’s Registration Department” had verified the petition’s signatures. Despite Hans Vogel’s articulate pleas, on Jan. 28, the Rancho Santiago board unanimously voted “to grant Tustin unconditional acceptance into their district.”
     Kanarek speculated that Vogel’s recently announced resignation [!] was caused by widespread support of the petition in the Tustin community. Kanarek hoped the state would “expedite this transfer.”
     Kanarek also announced his run for Tustin City Council.

* * *

     In March, it was announced that the local hearing of Orange County officials would be held on March 27. Their opinion would be advisory. (See “Hearing Slated on Saddleback JC Local Withdrawal,” Tustin News.)

* * *

     In April (See “Tustin ‘Deannexation,’” Tustin News, April 11), Bremer, Kanarek, and Vogel submitted position statements about the transfer issue to the Tustin News. Bremer argued that a consistent application of the “distance” argument across the state would result in “chaos.”

* * *

     On the 18th of April, the Times (“Tustin Bid for College Shift Suffers Setback”) reported that
     The Orange County Committee on School District Organization has recommended [on a vote of 4 to 3] that Tustin remain in the Saddleback College attendance area and not be switched to the Santa Ana College attendance area….
     The issue of whether to hold an election on the transfer question now will be decided by the board of governors of the California Community Colleges, meeting in Long Beach June 19 and 20.
. . .
     Officials of Saddleback Community College District argued against succession of Tustin from the district. No presentation was made by officials of Rancho Santiago Community College District….
. . .
     [Kanarek] said he was shocked that a public committee would so disregard the desires of a large number of persons….
. . .
     Meanwhile, the Coast Community College District board met Tuesday night … to hear residents’ comments on proposed annexation of the Garden Grove Unified School District area, not now part of any community college district, to Coast Community College District.
     Not one person, other than newsmen and board members, showed up.
* * *

     The CCC Board of Governors’ public hearing on the proposed transfer was scheduled for June 20.
     According to the Tustin News (“De-Annexation Hearing June 20,” June 13, 1974),
     The Board of Governors will hear arguments for and against the deannexation proposal and then either accept of deny the petition. Denial would end the matter, but if the board accepts the petition, it must then call for an election to be held in either the entire Saddleback District or only in the Tustin Unified area.
* * *

     On June 21st, the LA Times (“Tustin Loses, Garden Grove Wins….”) reports that:
     The governors voted against setting an election on deannexing of Tustin from the Saddleback Community College District. But they approved an election on annexing the Garden Grove Unified School District to Coast Community College District….
     Tustin residents had requested the deannexation…But deannexation would have left taxpayers in the remainder of the Saddleback district with a higher tax rate and also would have set a precedent of a community reneging on long-term bond obligations.
     The board of governors voted 9 to 4 to deny the election petitioned for by 8000 Tustin voters.
. . .
     Dr. Sidney Brossman, state chancellor of community colleges, recommended that the Tustin issue be put to a vote. He noted that one-fourth of the city’s registered voters signed a petition….
     His suggestion to the governors was that they not be concerned about deciding deannexation on the merits of the case but support the democratic process….
     But William Dillard apparently spoke for the majority on the state board when he said he still saw deannexation as a decision for the board to endorse or not endorse.
     Had the election been called, it is probable that Tustin would have lost anyway. Brossman recommended the vote to deannex be held throughout the entire Saddleback Community College District and not in Tustin alone, as Tustin spokesmen wanted.
     In such an election, Tustin voters would be outnumbered 3 to 1. And 73% would be faced with a projected tax rate increase of 17 cents next school year and 19 cents the following school year if Tustin pulled out.
. . .
     After the vote to deny, board member Mrs. Joan King proposed that the panel recommend to the Saddleback trustees that they consider a policy of open enrollment to allow Tustin students to attend the college of their choice.
     Several other board members agreed…but would not vote to intrude in what they saw as a matter of local prerogative….
* * *

     The corresponding Tustin News report (“Withdrawal by Tustin,” June 27) noted that
     [The] Key question concerning most of the board was how could Tustin pull out of a bonded indebtedness on a simple majority vote when they voted for the bonds on a two-thirds vote….
     All the spokesmen for the petition referred mainly to the distance problem, and the hazards of freeway driving….
     Shepard Kanarek, chairman of the College Committee of Tustin, [said] “I feel it was a mistake from the very start. The voters did not know of the location of the school until over a year after the election. I feel the location of the school, from the Tustin viewpoint, is a total absurdity.”
. . .
     Dr. Fred Bremer, president of Saddleback College, noted that there are many community college districts in the state that have similar distance problems. He added, “Our construction program has always been predicated on the inclusion of Tustin Unified School District. We have had a second campus near Tustin in our 10 year Master plan, but were told last year by the state to stop putting it in.”
. . .
     In answer to the state board Member Thomas Jones’ question on whether the Saddleback board had discussed a site near Tustin, [Saddleback trustee Hans] Vogel stated a site at Jeffrey Rd. and Santa Ana Freeway had been tentatively set aside by the Irvine Co and was still being held open….
. . .
     Mrs. [Elizabeth] Deedy [of the state board] said she felt that the petitioners should have gone directly to the [Saddleback] board in public meeting to air their views before going the route they did.
     State Board Member Tom Jones…[said] “I think it is precipitous to transfer. I think new directions can be taken within the next six months. I think the Tustin residents should work with the new board and with the new superintendent.”
. . .
     Another board member, Myrtle Weems, said, “I feel the Tustin people have made a strong point for their petition. On the other hand I can not see that Tustin has the right to withdraw from their bonded indebtedness.”
* * *

     That’s pretty much the end of that miserable chapter of the district’s history. Tustin remained in the Saddleback (South County) district, where it remains today.
     In fact, however, a Saddleback “north” campus, near but not in Tustin, would be completed in 1979. In 1985, it became the autonomous "Irvine Valley College."
     It should be said that Mr. Kanarek’s disgruntlement was not shared by many of the people who initially founded our district. The latter—e.g., Mr. Vogel, who has impressed me as I’ve reviewed these old stories—seems always to have understood that, when they set up the district, they could not also control where the first campus would be built and that it might well be built someplace other than in or near Tustin. (As it turned out, Tustin was soon surrounded by two community colleges: Santiago Canyon [in Orange] and Irvine Valley [in Irvine].) Kanarek, I think, represented the less enlightened and more self-seeking crowd among Tustinites, of which there were many, evidently.
     Oh, and, Mr. Kanarek’s bid to join the Tustin City Council? It went down in flames.
     The next chapter in our story, of course, is also a dismal one for the City of Tustin. For a time, it seemed that the district’s second campus would indeed be built in Tustin. Hooray!
     But no.

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