By Edgar Lopez
Officials from the Los Angeles Community College District and East Los Angeles College were quick to respond to claims of impropriety regarding their use of bond money.
A Los Angeles Times article published Sunday said the district acted irresponsibly in decision-making and the managing of funds, based on research their reporters had done.
“I think they’re only telling part of the story,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Richard A. Moyer.
In 2001, the LACCD decided to raise bond money to help rebuild campuses, including East Los Angeles College, and construction began shortly after.
However, the Times said the cost of fixing the construction errors at East Los Angeles College went from $28 million to $43 million.
The Times said the increase in cost was largely due to the prime construction company not being held accountable for their errors.
They used ELAC’s clock tower, which cost $157,000 more than it should have, as an example of misspending, saying the tower required welding and steel work in order to be straightened.
President of ELAC, Ernest H. Moreno said the construction company, Morillo Construction Inc., actually was held responsible.
Morillo was fired and is being held in litigation.
“The clock tower,” said Moreno, “was actually a very small piece of the mix.”
Moreno said that the Times had correctly stated the amounts, but that the “image that’s being portrayed in the article was that somehow we had the ability to change the condition administratively.”
Alex Immerblum, president of the academic senate, said that the problem with how the district decides on a construction company is that they must choose the lowest bidder by law.
Jeffrey Hernandez, vice president of the academic senate, said this differs from the design build process where contractors are screened and are better qualified.
The design build process would allow the teachers to give their input on design. It would also reduce cost, as contractors would have to offer a design up front.
Hernandez said that in order to hold the companies responsible, ELAC had to be able to prove the faulty workmanship and damages, but they could not.
The money came out of ELAC’s pocket.
Hernandez said that if the district must use the low bid process, then they must “keep good records.”
In addition to the tower, inspectors found uneven steps, damaged lumber, steep wheelchair ramps and upside down heating and cooling units which all required repair.
While the Times article mostly criticized the program and the decisions of the district, Daniel LaVista, district chancellor, stood by them.
In a press release, LaVista said that the Times had reported in a negative manner that “overshadowed” the improvements made to campuses.
The Times had presented the district’s decisions in a faulty way.
He said that there have been many improvements done to campuses throughout the LACCD.
At ELAC, an entry plaza was built and decorated to attract students.
New and remodeled buildings surround the plaza including a student services and an administration building.
A few landmarks decorating the plaza are the ELAC pillars. It is those slabs of domino looking brick columns that announce the initials of the school’s name.
High above all is ELAC’s clock tower. However, it is not only a clock tower but is also an elevator in the student services building.
Moreno said it was designed like that so they could take advantage of the tower’s space.
Other newly built or upgraded buildings are scattered around ELAC such as the technology center, softball field, parking structure, fine arts complex and more.
The baseball field has been turned into a parking lot.
Moreno said that ELAC is advanced in terms of construction projects. ELAC has completed many projects and has many others waiting. The reason for the many projects was so ELAC could take advantage of the current low construction prices.
Moreno said that the general feeling about the article among administration was that of what LaVista said.
LaVista said the Times’ report was “one-sided and biased reporting.”
“We, on the other hand,” LaVista said, “acknowledge that there were past problems with planning and oversight.”
LaVista said that issues are common upon such elaborate construction plans.
He said the district dealt with the errors and planned to improve upon them.
Coby King, for the LACCD said that 99 percent of the construction program is fine.
King said he believes the Times had exaggerated on a couple of examples.
The exaggeration goes back to the clock tower. Although the clock tower was crooked, “it was crooked by only an inch or two,” as Moreno, said. It was barely noticeable to the naked eye.
Moreno said the tower did not originally have the slope it does now, but it was artistically designed that way after the discovery of the subtle crookedness.
A factual error on behalf of the times was on the claim that ELAC “students work at banks of shiny iMac computers in a new science building.” ELAC has neither a new science building nor a bank of shiny iMacs.
“I think it’s a shoddy piece of reporting,” said King about the article.
King said the timing release of the article was overdue if it was so important.
It took the Times 18 months of research until they could release it.
However, many say the timing of the release was purposely set as the elections for board of trustees is around the corner.
The elections will be held on March 8.
Chairpersons and instructors proved LaVista’s point.
“Our original theater building,” theater department chairperson, Michael Kasnetsis said, “was merely three military barrack buildings stitched together, which we worked out of for more than 40 years.”
“Most students are happy with it,” said Jim Uyekawa, the art department chairperson.
He said that the new buildings addressed basic needs such as lighting, safety and health.
In Waddition to the accusations of misspending and waste, Moreno was accused of using his position to influence others into employing his son.
The article said that Moreno had asked Pacifica Services Inc., a main construction supervisory firm at ELAC, about employment for his son, Derek Moreno.
Moreno, who had been suspected of favoritism toward his son by Tyree Wieder, a temporary chancellor of the district, said that his son was hired back in 2003, in a time of construction peak. It was a time when there were more jobs available than people, contrary to today.
Moreno said he neither influenced the hiring of his son nor did he ever supervise his son. He also said that his son never worked for ELAC, but for a contractor.
“Absolutely incorrect,” said Moreno of the accusations.
The Associated Student Union of ELAC, including presidents, said they were unaware of the Times’s article.
The majority of students interviewed were also unaware.