Superior Court judge shuts down Mt. SAC construction

Backed by residents of United Walnut Taxpayers plaintiff Layla Abou-Taleb, center, asks a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court  for a temporary restraining order to halt construction of Mt. SAC's proposed parking garage. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/Pasadena Star-News)

Backed by residents of United Walnut Taxpayers plaintiff Layla Abou-Taleb, center, asks a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court for a temporary restraining order to halt construction of Mt. SAC’s proposed parking garage. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/Pasadena Star-News)

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Mount San Antonio College on Wednesday to immediately halt construction on a planned $48 million parking structure which would have provided spaces for 2,300 vehicles.

The ruling is a victory for a Walnut taxpayers group who believe that “construction is having a serious environmental impact on the community,” said attorney Craig Sherman, who is representing the homeowners.

Judge Luis Lavin granted the restraining order after hearing arguments Wednesday.

“It appears to the satisfaction of the court that this is a proper case for granting a temporary restraining order as the court finds the applicant United Walnut has established a reasonable probability that it will prevail in its claim that the college district cannot exempt itself from zoning laws,” Lavin wrote.

In granting the injunction, he noted that unless the temporary restraining order was granted, “irreparable injury will result to United Walnut and the general public before the matter can be heard.”

“They’re in a hurry to do as much as they can before our case can be heard,” Sherman complained.

For more, read Rich Irwin’s story RESTRAINING

Walnut, residents sue Mt. SAC over parking garage

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The city and concerned residents filed separate lawsuits against Mount San Antonio College this week, claiming the community college is violating the city’s zoning ordinance and breaking environmental laws. It is the latest attempt by the City Council and residents to stop construction of a controversial $48.5-million parking structure off Mountaineer Road.

“We have to hold their feet to the fire, they’re not complying with the law,” said Councilman Bob Pacheco after the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to sue Mt. SAC. “We have to challenge their actions because the college has not been straight with us.”

Mt. SAC began construction March 18, one week after receiving approval from the Division of the State Architect. On Wednesday, work continued, as workers cut down campus trees facing Mountaineer Road to make way for the parking garage.

“They want to play hardball and be obnoxious about it. They are marching ahead and shoving it in the public’s face. But they know this is going to get overturned,” said Craig Sherman, San Diego-based attorney for United Walnut Taxpayers.

The residents’ lawsuit claims the college violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not crafting a separate environmental impact report on the 2,300-space garage project. It also argues the city did not present voters of Measure RR, a $353-million bond issue adopted in 2008 with a full description of the project, a violation of Proposition 39. The third cause of action mimics the city’s lawsuit and claims Mt. SAC should not be exempt from city zoning laws.

“I think we got them dead to rights,” Sherman said.

In an interview Thursday, Mt. SAC President William Scroggins said the college received the residents’ lawsuit and its attorneys are preparing a response to present to the Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday. “We feel we have a good basis in both statute and case laws that support our position,” he said.

As an educational institution, Mt. SAC contends it is exempt from city zoning laws and therefore, only needs approval from the state architect.

“We’ve done each of the required steps in terms of environmental impact, traffic studies, the construction design and approval by the state,” he wrote in a news release.

Scroggins said the college does not plan on stopping construction. Sherman said his group, made up mostly of Timberline residents whose homes would be as close as 120 feet from the structure, may ask for an injunction if construction doesn’t stop immediately.

For more, read Rich Irwin’s and Steve Scauzillo’s story LAWSUIT.

Mt SAC artist presents show in the art gallery in Walnut

The Mt. San Antonio College Art Gallery will feature the work of Mt. SAC professor and ceramic artist Susie Rubenstein in its “Landmarks: Memories of Places” exhibit, which runs March 19 through April 16, at the Art Gallery. This exhibit is free and open to the public.   

“Landmarks: Memories of Places” is a collection of Rubenstein’s work, consisting of ceramics, textiles, and charcoal drawings with a ceramic vessel oriented focus. Her work has been noted for its “renewed expression of the ethereal experience” and her “constant re-examination of line, of form and of their execution.” 

A special opening reception will be held Thursday, March 19, 4 to 6 p.m., in the Art Gallery, building 1B. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Tuesday nights, 5 to 7:30 p.m. 

For more information, call the Art Gallery at (909) 274-4328. 

Walnut to consider legal action against Mt. SAC for parking structure

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

Walnut City Council will meet in closed session tonight to consider whether to sue Mount San Antonio College for going ahead with construction of a five-story, $45 million parking garage directly across the street from homes.

The consideration of “possible litigation — status report on proposed parking structure, Mt. SAC” by the council may have been precipitated by two actions taken by the school’s governing board on Feb. 11.

First, the board passed a resolution saying the college does not have to abide by City of Walnut zoning laws because the parking structure will be an educational facility owned and operated by the district.

And second, the college board approved an $8.4 million contract with Tilden-Coil Constructors, Inc. for work on the first phase of the new parking structure, including relocation of utility lines, demolition, grading and soil movement.

The college, located in Walnut, has put up numerous new buildings that didn’t require approval from the city. Colleges and university projects are approved by the state architect. Also, the college’s resolution notes it doesn’t have to meet Walnut zoning codes because they do not address the location of schools.

If the facility is not considered educational, it is possible a city would have a say, but the resolution states the parking structure will also be used “for student instruction in subjects such as astronomy, administration of justice and fire technology.”

The City Council voted in August to oppose building a parking structure at the location, finding it would cause air pollution, traffic and potential ingress and egress problems for emergency vehicles, as cars would be using Mountaineer Road to access the structure — the same street used by hundreds of residents of Timberline, a neighborhood in north Walnut.

Read more in Steve Scauzillo’s story PARKING.

Walnut questions Mt. SAC costs to move parking structure

Walnut Council members Mary Su and Tony Cartagena listen to Mt. SAC president Bill Scroggins

Walnut Council members Mary Su and Tony Cartagena listen to Mt. SAC president Bill Scroggins

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Walnut City Council questioned Mt. SAC’s $14.5 million cost projection to move a controversial 2,200 spot parking structure during a study session Wednesday.

The session was well attended by residents of Timberline, who live across the street from the sprawling campus in Walnut. Homeowners have fought the structure for the past year, saying it will damage the quality of their lives.

The City Council has supported the residents and asked Mt. SAC to come to city hall to explain the other options studied for the parking structure. Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins sat down to answer their questions.

“Our board asked staff to look at two general alternatives. One would be to move the parking structure to another location, another would be to downsize the parking at the present location,” Scroggins explained.

His staff estimated it would cost $14.5 to move the garage or $6 million to downsize it.

Councilman Tony Cartagena asked for more information than the three page handouts brought by Mt. SAC.

“Without that information, we cannot say whether this is accurate or not. Because the next step, we would like our city engineer check the other information you might have and figure out if the estimate could be cut,” Cartagena said.

Mayor Pro Tem Eric Ching asked how much time had been spent on the analysis. Scroggins said his staff began working on it in mid-December and took a month of preparation.

“One of the major factors is that we’re toward the end of the process of the development of the site — the architectural plans, state approval and site preparation,” said Scroggins.

To move the structure, he said the community college would have to start from scratch, delaying it by three years.

The Mt. SAC CEO added any delay would add 4 percent a year to construction costs due to inflation. Councilman Bob Pacheco questioned this inflation rate, feeling it should be closer to 3 percent.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story PARKING

Mt. SAC faculty fights student housing proposal

Faculty is fighting a student housing proposal at Mount San Antonio College. A long line of professors told the Mt. SAC board of trustees that student housing wasn’t needed or wanted at the community college in Walnut.

In March, President Bill Scroggins formed a student housing task force. He said Mt. SAC had been approached 18 months ago by an equity development group, Antarctica.

“They said in this economy, there’s a lot of cash chasing revenue. ‘So we’ve got the money and what we’d like to do with this money is help education, in particular community colleges,’” Scroggins recalled. “What have you got that produces any kind of revenue that will eventually pay off whatever investment we make in your college.”

So the two parties talked about the parking structure and the daily rates that could be charged. “That didn’t pencil out,” Scroggins said.

They also talked about solar power fields. “Now, we (Mt. SAC) see with our incentives and zero-interest loans, we are going to build that cheaper than anyone else,” he said.

The Mt. SAC CEO pointed out that the City of Industry had considered building student housing with redevelopment money on the west parcel. “Conversations with the Walnut City Council said ‘hell, no, we’re not going to have housing on Grand Avenue, but we’d be OK with housing over by Cal Poly,” Scroggins said.

So Antarctica was asked to show that student housing was feasible. It had the Cokley Group conduct a student survey on housing.

“They saw enough demand for at least 500, maybe 1,000 students in student housing,” Scroggins said.

These documents were shared with the task force in September. The survey suggested housing would be attractive to athletes, out of state and international students.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story HOUSING.

Mt SAC studies options for new parking structure

Mount San Antonio College trustees learned it would cost $14.5 million to move the controversial 2,200 spot parking structure planned for the community college.

Another study to downsize the $45 million parking garage said it would cost almost $6 million to eliminate one of the parking levels in one section. That would only cut 200 stalls.

“The cost is not feasible to redo the parking structure,” concluded Mt. SAC President and CEO Bill Scroggins. “After the multi-millions spent on the design, it would not be a good shepherding of tax dollars.”

Mt. SAC’s Director of Facilities Gary Nellesen explained the costs involved to move the parking garage from Parking Lot A to Lot F. His staff calculated it would take three years and $14,470,000 to relocate the parking garage now planned off Mountaineer Road along Edinger Way. And the easier option of cutting one section would cost $5,820,000.

“The biggest cost would be inflation caused by the delay,” Nellesen said. “We use the same number we use for all our projects … about 4 percent per year. Because this redesign effort would take 18 months, we’re figuring about a year and a half of cost inflation on the rest of the structure.”

That would add $2.4 million to the cost of the smaller structure. Deleting one level and replacing it with surface parking would save $2 million.

“We’d have to pay for a redesign of the darn thing,” Nellesen said.

He said the college learned a lesson back in 2003, when bids for the new science building came in over budget.

“We did an extensive effort to reduce the cost of the project. By the time we got it approved and put it up for bid, we got less for more money,” Nellesen recalled.

He said using Lot F would add 40 months to the project in order to start all over again with the environmental impact report, new design and the state approval process. Inflation would add $5.6 million to the costs.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story PARKING

Walnut Council crashes Mt. SAC board meeting

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

For the first time in history, the City Council held part of its meeting Wednesday night in front of the Mount San Antonio College board as a kind of visual protest against the college’s plan to build a five-story parking structure adjacent to Walnut homes.

With city staff in tow, all five City Council members drove from Walnut City Hall, where their meeting began, to Founder’s Hall in the center of the Mt. SAC campus, filled out white comment cards and were called one by one to address the college board face-to-face over an issue that is dividing the two institutions.

All five, along with about 20 community members, urged the Board of Trustees to halt plans to build a five-story parking garage abutting dozens of Timberline homes along Mountaineer Road and instead relocate the structure elsewhere on the large campus.

The tense drama included numerous threats of litigation from some City Council members and attorneys with the neighborhood group, United Walnut Taxpayers, if the project was not relocated.

Councilman Eric Ching reminded the trustees the city a few years ago took on Ed Roski, who proposed an NFL stadium in nearby Industry, in court. “Is that what you want?” he said.

The odd arrangement came about after Mt. SAC’s Board of Trustees refused to meet with the City Council in joint session or with a board majority. Members of both groups met informally twice but with no resolution.

Read more in Steve Scauzillo’s story GARAGE.

Mt. SAC holds community volunteer fair today

The Mt. San Antonio College Student Life Office will hold a Community Volunteer Fair for local organizations that would like to recruit student volunteers on Thursday, Nov. 6, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Student Life Center patio area, building 9C. 

The fair provides an opportunity for students to engage in public service, obtain hands-on learning experiences, and make a difference in the community.

Some of the organizations that will participate in this year’s event include the AmeriCorps, Covina Public Library, Inland Empire United Way, House of Ruth, Inland Valley Hope Partners, Just Us 4 Youth, Parent’s Place Family Resource & Empowerment Center, Rowland Unified School District Family Resource Center, Think Together, VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, and more. 

Paola Mendoza sworn in as student trustee at Mt SAC in Walnut

Mt. San Antonio College student Paola Mendoza was sworn in as the new student trustee for the 2014-15 academic year during the Mt. SAC Board of Trustees’ July 23 meeting. 

As student trustee, Mendoza, 19, will present the student perspective on policy issues before Mt. SAC’s governing board.

She will have only an advisory vote, which does not count toward the passage or failure of a motion. The advisory vote helps the board know how the student trustee stands on issues and strengthens the student role in the college’s shared governance process.

Mendoza, a resident of Ontario, is a psychology major and carries a 3.6 GPA. She has served as a senator with the Mt. SAC Associated Students (student government) and holds memberships in the campus Psychology Club and IDEAS Club, which serves as an advocate for undocumented students.

After she graduates from Mt. SAC, she plans to transfer to UCLA as a psychology major.