Pursuit to halt project denied

Brentwood Center plans proceeding

Another attempt by an elected official from the community to halt plans for the new permanent Brentwood Center has been put to bed by the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board.

Contra Costa County Board of Education Governing Board Trustee Jeff Belle, who represents Ward IV, made a plea to the district governing board during the public comment portion of its March 25 meeting to not continue work on the project.

“I am requesting that this board take formal action as soon as possible to cease all activities regarding the start of construction of the new Brentwood Center at the Trilogy location,” said Belle.

He cited information from a letter addressed to former District Governing Board President John Marquez — now board secretary — written by BART Board of Directors President Joel Keller last fall. The letter, dated Oct. 23, was never officially sent or endorsed by the BART board of directors but it did question whether the site currently chosen by the district violates state and federal regulations.

“I have asked the Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Karen Sakata to determine whether legal opinion prepared by the BART general counsel, and included in the draft letter to then College Board President John E. Marquez … is valid,” said Belle in the written prepared statement he presented to the district governing board.

The laws he referred to from Keller’s letter included California Government Code section 1135, which prohibits “disparate impacts on the basis of race, color or national origin,” and various federal regulations and state environmental justice policies that “require that assessments be made on the effects of these sorts of siting decisions on low income persons prior to acting on the decision.” Violating these laws could result in a loss of funding.

During the district governing board meeting, Belle said these issues mostly affect his constituents — he represents voters in Bethel Island, Clyde, Knightsen, Oakley, Antioch, Bay Point, Brentwood, Discovery Bay and Pittsburg — but didn’t explain how these laws, or moving the current campus from Sand Creek Road to land near Marsh Creek Road and Vineyards Parkway, affected the voters he represents.

Belle also echoed sentiments expressed in a letter to the district governing board from District III County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, which too was sent last fall and addressed to Marquez. She wrote that she was concerned with the current location slated for the new structure and had requested the district reconsider its choice.

“I will be in discussions with Supervisor Piepho, because we have a large overlap of constituents, regarding the ways we can assure the new Brentwood Center is constructed in the best place possible,” said Belle in his prepared statement, and also suggested “conducting a series of possible public hearings in Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood to allow voters to weigh in on the issue.”

Due to Brown Act restrictions, the governing board could not discuss or directly address Belle’s concerns because it wasn’t on the agenda but, during the portion of the meeting request for dealing with future agenda items, District Governing Board Trustee Greg Enholm, who has strongly opposed the current site, said he would like to further explore the issues brought forth by Belle at the beginning of the meeting.

“I remain concerned that the board has not formally addressed the legal opinion by the BART General counsel, that there are potential violations of California and U.S. laws which were brought up in the public comment,” said Enholm.

He explained to his fellow trustees he felt the district governing board needed to examine this issue.

“I would like to have the board have an alternate legal opinion, or some reason to say that this is not relevant … because I can’t believe you’ll just dismiss out of hand a legal opinion,” said Enholm, adding that he would like to add an item to the next meeting’s agenda to discuss some of the points brought up by Belle. This statement led to intense conversation among the board members.

Marquez, who represents Ward I, was the first to respond to Enholm’s request and he pointed out that the BART board decided not to endorse the draft letter and Keller eventually withdrew it, and that to revisit the issue would be a misstep.

He said it would be a mistake to allow any other board or government agency to intervene in the college district’s affairs, just like the district governing board shouldn’t “meddle into their business unless it directly affects our district.”

“I don’t understand the issue here,” said Marquez, suggesting it was time to move on. “We’ve been dealing with this matter almost every month … since last year.”

But District Governing Board Trustee Tim Farley, who had spoken before the district governing board last fall in favor of Keller’s eleventh-hour proposal to move the current location chosen for the new Brentwood Center to land next to a possible future eBART station near Lone Tree Way and the Mokulmne Trail last fall — prior to replacing Matthew Rinn in representing Ward III after his win in the Nov. 4 election — said he didn’t understand the fuss and sided with Enholm.

“I have confidence in our legal counsel,” said Farley. “So I don’t see any problem in addressing the issue, having a peer review and closing the subject.”

District Governing Board President John Nejedly, who represents Ward IV where the new college campus is currently slated to be built and has strongly opposed a site move since Keller made his proposal to the district governing board at its Sept. 10 meeting last fall, disagreed.

“Well, we have done quite a bit of review of this Brentwood Campus,” said Nejedly, who pointed out that the district is making a lease payment on the temporary space the center is currently occupying, and further explained that the board has already gone through the necessary channels for approval of the project.

He then addressed Enholm directly.

“The decisions have been made through a public process,”said Nejedly and then, pointing to his right added, “and I want board member Enholm to recall the public process was in that room before you were a board member and [you] attended those meetings.”

Nejedly said and because of all the work that has been done, the district needs to keep moving forward with its plans.

“We’ve done study after study,” said Nejedly. “And this board has continuously, unanimously supported the project and I would hope that the rest of the board would get on board and support the decision.”

But Farley said he felt Nejedly was missing the point.

“This is not about the decision,” explained Farley. “[Belle] wants our legal opinion peer reviewed. Maybe the chancellor can speak with Superintendent Sakata to find out in particular what the request is.”

District Chancellor Helen Benjamin, who has remained silent during previous controversial discussions about the future permanent site of the Brentwood Center during the past year, denied Farley’s request because she was not certain Belle spoke for anyone but himself.

“I don’t know if he is representing that board,” said Benjamin. “He is one person and if it were from the president of the board on behalf of the board, if the the superintendent had come here, it would be an entirely different issue.”

Nejedly agreed with Benjamin and reminded everyone this has happened before.

“We’ve had people come as members of the public,” said Nejedly, adding that such instances have already caused delays.

He then proceeded to quote an excerpt from a letter sent to the district governing board from the Mayor’s office, dated Feb. 13, 2013, requesting the district to move forward with its plans for the new Brentwood campus.

“This was two years ago now and we’ve continually delayed it and I don’t want to delay it anymore,” said Nejedly. “So I would appreciate it if we would move forward with it.”

The next to speak was District Governing Board Vice President Vicki Gordon, who represents Ward II. But she paused and seemed to be collecting her thoughts before making comments.

“It’s not going to delay it,” said Gordon. “It shouldn’t delay it, but it could put it to bed once and for all.”

“But it doesn’t,” interjected Marquez in an exasperated tone. “That’s the problem I am having.”

As Marquez began to say more, Farley commented that this is not something to be afraid of, to which Marquez responded he wasn’t in fear of this.

Although Gordon said she wasn’t opposed to looking at these legal issues, she made clear that when the district went out for Bond Measure E they had to have a specific address and the Trilogy site was the one listed on the ballot, so that is the only site the district would be allowed to spend voter-approved funds on.

“This should be put to bed simply because there’s no money to back any other site,” said Gordon. “So I can’t see going down a path at another site because there’s just no money to support any of it. ”

Nejedly quickly agreed with Gordon and he emphasized her last point.

“Right, then I don’t think we need to go through this additional exercise,” he said.

After everyone was done speaking a long pause filled the room. Marquez broke the awkward silence by suggesting going to closed session since there was no consensus on Enholm’s motion.

But Benjamin indicated there was no more business to discuss.

“We’re done,” she said.