In the middle of an ongoing financial crisis, City College of San Francisco is asking voters to approve $845 million in bonds to upgrade its depreciated buildings, build new facilities and make earthquake safety upgrades.
San Francisco voters will weigh Proposition A on March 3, authorizing City College to borrow the funds for upgrades and maintenance the school has put off for years.
Prop. A funds will be used to fix up buildings with leaky roofs and decaying walls, boost access for people with disabilities, improve security systems and seismically retrofit buildings to prepare for earthquakes. Improvements to vocational classrooms and facilities, as well as a new childcare center, would also be made in a push to expand job training and transfers to four-year universities.
City College’s main campus at Ocean Avenue is in particularly bad shape, with 70 percent of its buildings in poor condition, the measure said. The college has made just minor improvements to its buildings since the Ocean Campus came together in 1935.
The current proposed project list, which may be supported by Prop. A funds, includes $102 million for a performing arts center that will have space to house a Diego Rivera mural currently on loan to a museum, $10.9 million for a childcare center, $152 million for a new STEAM building (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) and $125 million for a student services center.
With interest, the revitalization effort would cost a total of $1.6 billion. The city controller estimated property taxes will cost another $11 per $100,000 assessed property value if the measure passes.
Prop. A is significantly larger than previous bonds to improve City College facilities. Voters previously approved $195 million in 2001 and $246 million in 2005.
There are few formal opponents, but the measure comes as City College is embroiled in another financial crisis that has eaten into its reserve funds. It cut 554 credit and 309 non-credit classes for the 2019-2020 school year to balance a $32 million budget deficit, and then in November suddenly cut another 288 spring classes, prompting an angry reaction from students and faculty who were caught by surprise.
The Board of Supervisors, led partly by Supervisor Shamann Walton, approved $2.4 million to bridge the loss but Chancellor Mark Rocha indicated the district did not need the funding and defended the cuts in a letter as part of a “long-planned restructuring” toward college transfers. Mayor London Breed ultimately vetoed the appropriation.
Walton still supports Prop. A, but wants the college to better include city officials in transparent discussions about its future.
“I’m very concerned about City College’s ability to manage anything at this point,” Walton said. “We as a city can support the college financially.”
City College nearly lost its accreditation in 2012, causing enrollment to plunge, in part due to financial and administrative problems.
The Free City College program, which subsidizes tuition for San Francisco residents and was implemented in 2017, was expected to boost enrollment numbers. The Board of Supervisors and the City College board entered an agreement to continue funding for that program for a decade in 2019, starting with $15 million in the first year, but the college is still struggling to bring enrollment back to levels seen before the accreditation crisis. Enrollment has hovered around 62,000 students overall since the 2017-2018 school year, down from 83,000 students for the 2011-2012 academic year.
Prop. A needs 55 percent of the vote to pass.
California voters will also weigh Proposition 13 on March 3, a statewide bond measure to bring $15 billion to repair and modernize schools statewide including $2 billion for community colleges.