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An 11th-hour challenger has turned what was initially an uncontested election into a full-fledged race, giving Contra Costa County Ward 5 voters the opportunity this November to choose who they want for their Contra Costa Community College District trustee.
Incumbent Greg Enholm of Bay Point has represented the ward, which includes Los Medanos College, since he was first elected in 2012. This year he will face Pittsburg native Fernando Sandoval, who filed on deadline day.
When Sandoval arrived at the Contra Costa County Election Office, he found his opponent had been there “since 6 o’clock in the morning waiting to see if he would be getting challenged for the race.”
Sandoval began his journey as a candidate filling out forms and character references.
“I went to the window and they didn’t take credit cards so I needed help to pay over $900 for it,” he said. “Someone else was at the window, saw that I was filing for a seat, wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to run and actually paid for my filing fee.”
Sandoval said that generous action and his last-minute entry surprised his opponent, and added that Enholm approached him as he filed claiming his running changed the nature of the race and that it could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite this cost, however, Enholm later said he believes in democracy and giving the community the option to choose between two candidates.
“If there were just my name on the ballot, would we be as successful?” Enholm asked rhetorically. “This is what makes our country great, the ability of voters to have a choice between voting for one person or another person –– and I fully support that.”
But democracy isn’t free.
“If there’s no challenger to an incumbent trustee, there will not be an election and the district will therefore not need to pay for one,” he said, adding the district would not be spending $200,000 to $300,000 if Sandoval had not decided to challenge him for the seat.
“My hope is that he’s running because he feels that he can present to the voters a viable alternative,” said Enholm.
Sandoval said he’s been urged before by members of the community to run for the governing board but due to other commitments as a managing consultant, he did not have the time to devote to public service.
“My situation changed and I’m now available to give a 100 percent commitment,” he said, explaining he has spoken with community members and educators about what “I would bring to the table – with my connections and my background in technology, marketing and business.”
He said his experience in the business world has taught him how to listen effectively and be clear in developing solutions –– some of which make up his three-part platform: diversity and inclusion, engaging with K-12 and advocating for technology programs and internships.
Sandoval said he plans to focus on community wellness and explained how significant diversity and inclusion is key to achieving this. He wants to makes sure all the “different dimensions of people” are brought into the district.
“Think about it as the salsa to your food. You have all this different food, but you want the salsa to bring out all the flavors so you can enjoy it,” he said. “So here at the campus, we want that inclusion so we can have the voices of the student body and everyone involved to participate in positive engagement for new ideas.”
That engagement would include introducing students to conversations and curriculum about emerging technologies in the world.
Sandoval explained the colleges should “educate our students today for the jobs of tomorrow, because today’s advanced skills are tomorrow’s basic skills.” He wants Los Medanos College to be a model school that develops innovative curriculum for the future.
Part of his plan for the future is to create pathways between college students and employers by heading out into the community to generate more internship opportunities. Sandoval said he’s worked in businesses with internship outreach programs and understands the methodology.
“We need to go ahead and look at opportunity on the community level and widen networks for students,” he said. “There are a lot of different places that they can contribute to and use the skills that they’ve learned.”
Sandoval said engagement with the community also involves understanding what the needs of K-12 students are for future generations who want to attend college. He explained that kids in those age groups should get an early understanding of the importance of education.
“We need to make sure we identify early those students that need a little more preparation to go to college,” he said. “We also need to make sure that we sit down with those students when they get there and engage with them personally so that they have a high value of education.”
Enholm shares similar ideas when it comes to further engaging with the K-12 students in the area. He would like to build a bridge between high school and college through the College and Career Access Pathways program, recently approved by the state, so students can see what it’s like to be at LMC.
Enholm, who is supporting its adoption by the college district, said CCAP would let high school students start taking college courses their sophomore year. If they pass those classes, the credits they earned will transfer over as college units –– making it possible for those students to be finished with their first year of college by the time they get their high school diploma.
If elected to a second term, Enholm said he also wants to use his connections to bring services and resources to homeless students.
“If we see a student who’s homeless, let’s try to get that person into a space that allows them to get a $40,000 income,” said Enholm adding, “From a practical standpoint that’s where I’d like to make a shift. For the last four years I’ve focused primarily on learning about the colleges.”
Now, he said, he wants to focus on analyzing student needs and figure out how to meet them. He said the board is not currently set up to deal with issues such as homelessness, but his plan would involve reaching out to county services and the private sector to try to get students the help they need.
“Anything that’s preventing a student from succeeding needs to be reduced or eliminated because otherwise they won’t succeed,” he said, adding that student success “is our ultimate goal.”
Enholm explained that one of the ways he has gained a better understanding of what goes on with the colleges is by taking courses at the schools within the district –– including the Brentwood Center –– and has been the only trustee to do so in the last decade.
“I think that the fact that I am now almost 20 years in of taking courses means that I have a good, solid understanding of what it’s like to be a student here,” he said.
In addition to taking courses, Enholm said he proposed that the board ask the voters to approve the most recent bond to build what will be the new Student Activities Center at LMC, scheduled to be completed Fall 2019.
He’s also continuing to advocate for easier access for East Contra Costa County students to get to the main campus and Brentwood Center. He singled out students in Far East Contra Costa –– Discovery Bay, Brentwood and Oakley –– as facing a particularly rough commute.
“An unfortunate reality is that even now transportation to LMC from those communities can be a challenge and there are times when the traffic is simply not moving,” he said.
Enholm said making transportation easier for students is important, adding, “I’ve been a very strong supporter of eBART.”
An eBART station is currently under construction on Railroad Avenue and a shuttle is expected to take riders to various locations, one of which he hopes is LMC, so that in theory a student would be able to get on eBART in Antioch, go to the Pittsburg eBART station, get on a shuttle and go directly to LMC.
Along with wanting residents of Antioch, Brentwood and Oakley to have accessible community college courses, Enholm believes that Far East Contra Costa County deserves a 110-acre college at a location other than the planned smaller site in Brentwood. He is still campaigning on that issue but acknowledges a location change is unlikely.
As a board trustee, he voted for a “proposal to move the Brentwood Center near the future eBART station on Sand Creek Road and Highway 4 so students would have a much easier access to eBART and much easier access to courses at the Pittsburg campus. But the other four trustees said no and I can’t change the votes.”
Sandoval said he agrees with the governing board’s decision to keep the planned center where it is but that they need to pay attention to enrollment forecasts in planning the new campus. He’s also concerned about the resources the district has already put into getting the selected location ready for construction and wants to ensure traffic patterns are designed to flow smoothly.
“The key is not to have the distraction of looking for a different location,” he said. “What we need to do is ensure that all the planning and all the money that’s already been funded for it is used so that the campus can be built on time.”
For more information on what each candidate stands for, you can check out Sandoval’s website at fernando4collegeboard.com and e-mail Enholm directly at [email protected]