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Center faces local strife

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Despite objections from the community and a letter from Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho supporting a change in location, the Contra Costa Community College District is steaming ahead with its plan to build a new permanent Los Medanos College Brentwood Center Campus at its previously selected site.

Residents from Summerset attended the district governing board’s Dec. 10 meeting armed with a petition. They asked the board to delay selecting an architectural firm until further discussions and a possible vote on the location could take place.

Currently the new campus is slated to be built on land near Trilogy and Summerset at Vineyards Parkway and Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood. Members of the age-restricted communities are concerned about the influx of traffic the new college would bring to Fairview Avenue and lack of public transportation currently available to students who choose to attend LMC classes at the center.

District Governing Board Trustee Greg Enholm, who represents Ward V, said he requested at the end of the Dec.10 board meeting that “Piepho’s letter be placed on the Jan. 28 college board agenda along with the petition signed by 1,000 Summerset residents to have a public election on the Special State Senate Election set for March 2015 to allow far East Contra Costa voters to decide where the new campus will be located.”

But later, in an email interview, District Chief Facilities Planner Ray Pyle said the center is currently a go.

“We reviewed 19 statements of qualifications from architectural firms, narrowed it down to three, and will interview the three firms on Jan. 23,” said Pyle.

The statements of qualifications were received back in August following the approval of Bond Measure E, which gave the project its funding. But the planning process was brought to a halt by BART Board of Directors President Joel Keller’s eleventh-hour proposal to move the location of the new Brentwood Center to land located next to a possible future eBART station near the Mokulomne Trail and Lone Tree Way, thus linking public transit with public education.

In response, the college district hired a private consultant to do a feasibility study on a potential site move. That study deemed the original location chosen as still the best available choice and the board voted 4-1 at its Nov. 12 meeting to go ahead with the project on the land already owned by the district. Piepho then sent a letter to the board echoing the concerns of the Summerset residents, who spoke at the Dec. 10 board meeting and voiced support for Keller’s proposal.

“The [current] site has no transportation alternatives while the Mokulomne Trail site could provide both bus and BART access and create a much better transportation package for students while minimizing impact to others in the adjacent areas/community,” said Piepho in her letter.

But one of the determining factors the feasibility study considered was that the state would most likely not approve an extension center located fewer than 10 miles from the main campus.

“It’s a rule of thumb at the State Chancellor’s Office,” said Pyle, adding that the Mokulomne Trail site suggested by Keller is only 8.9 miles away from LMC in Pittsburg via Google Maps using State Route 4, while the Pioneer Square site is 13.9 miles.

In contrast, Enholm, who has been an adamant supporter of Keller’s proposal, also provided maps from Google, Yahoo and Bing which indicate the Mokulomne Trail site is at least 10.9 miles away from LMC in Pittsburg.

No matter where the college is built, Piepho said in an interview the governing board needs to address changes that have occurred over time and the opportunities now available.

“I think that it’s important that the government listen to community concerns,” said Piepho, who attended the Summerset IV Town Hall Meeting last November. Governing Board President John Nejedly, who is the trustee representing Ward IV where the campus is slated to be built, and also Peipho’s brother, was invited to address questions and hear comments from members of the Trilogy and Summerset communities.

But Piepho was disappointed with the meeting because, she said, it seemed the college district sent a representative to listen to the residents but apparently had no intention of changing its decision on the site location of the future Brentwood Center.

In her letter to the governing board, dated Nov. 25, Piepho expressed concerns over the District’s Nov. 12 decision to move forward with building the satellite campus at the Pioneer Square Site.

“While I remain supportive and excited about the college district’s intent to further expand its access for students in far East Contra Costa, I was disappointed to learn that the board is not open to further dialogue with the Brentwood community about its proposed new center,” wrote Piepho.

Even if the Summerset residents managed to get the issue on the State Senate Special Election Ballot in March, the results wouldn’t necessarily affect the district’s decision to build the new campus at Vineyards Parkway and Marsh Creek Road.

“It would certainly have merit,” said LMC President Bob Kratochvil in an interview, but the city has no control over what the college does because it is a state entity.

“The fact is that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction,” explained Kratochvil, adding that the governing board would have to make that decision just like they made the original decision to build.

But Kratochvil said he has been in conversations with the city of Brentwood and Homeowner’s Association representatives from Trilogy and Summerset III and IV, along with district governing board members, to find solutions to residents’ concerns with traffic, specifically on Fairview Avenue. As of right now, the new campus is scheduled to be completed Fall 2018 which, he said, gives the college time to figure out solutions — possible new stop signs, roundabouts, speed bumps and even a third party-study on potential additional traffic conditions.

Construction traffic is also an issue that has been addressed, said Kratochvil, adding that the construction crew will abide by city ordinances regarding noise and a specific route for trucks and other vehicles involved in the building process.

Kratochvil also said he and District Director of Communications and Community Relations Tim Leong recently met with TriDelta CEO Jeanne Krieg about whether public transportation going to the new satellite campus is a possibility because there have been reports that TriDelta has no plans to provide bus routes for students if the college is built at the Pioneer Square site. Kratochvil said Krieg assured them at the meeting that TriDelta will provide transit where it is needed and there have even been talks of a possible bridge route between the Brentwood Center and the main campus in Pittsburg.

“They can do anything as long as there is ridership and money behind it,” said Kratochvil.

If things move forward as planned, the college will begin construction in a few years.

“The next step is to negotiate the architect’s fee and contract, take it to the board and, if approved, start design,” said Pyle.

But if the process is halted again because the district decides to move the site, the state is not currently accepting Letters of Intent to build until October 2015, there is the possibility the state might not approve a new site.

The decision to move ahead essentially rested on the fact that selecting a new site is fraught with risk, increased cost and an unacceptable delay in opening the new campus.

“Essentially if we can’t build where we are currently planning, the whole process of finding a new location and getting it approved would have to start over,” explained Pyle. “This is a two-to-four year process, and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Center faces local strife