In an unusual move, the City Council will reconvene its official meeting tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m. at Walnut City Hall, then 6-6:30 p.m. at Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall ) from Walnut City Hall to Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall across town. And the Council will do so during the Mt. SAC trustees board meeting.
After officially notifying the public of the venue change both in writing and orally, the city clerk will gather the City Council inside the lobby and call the roll around 6 p.m., officially reopening the city council meeting so that the five elected officials can march into the trustees’ board room.
The council wants to explain to the full board why the college should suspend plans for a five-story garage next to homes in the Timberline neighborhood.
“It is like a showdown between the city of Walnut and Mt. SAC,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, a Timberline resident and part of a group fighting the 2,200-space garage for fear it will bring more traffic, noise and air pollution to their neighborhood and the city in general.
The Walnut City Council is not on the Mt. SAC board agenda and therefore, not officially recognized, according to documents. Instead, like ordinary Walnut residents, each member must express his or her concerns about the parking garage during the Oral Communications portion of the meeting, explained City Manager Rob Wishner.
The holding of a city council meeting inside Mt. SAC is extremely unusual, Wishner said. “It is probably a first,” he said, adding he’d never seen such an action during his time as city manager.
The unusual arrangement came about because Mt. SAC has refused the City Council’s request to hold a joint Walnut-Mt. SAC board meeting on the parking garage. “We’ve requested a joint meeting with the Board of Trustees but to no avail,” Wishner said.
Instead, Mayor Nancy Tragarz and Councilman Bob Pacheco did have one meeting with Mt. SAC trustees Judy Chen Haggerty and Fred Chyr. The meeting included Wishner and Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins. But the City Council wanted to meet with the trustees as a whole, according to a letter sent by the city to the college in late August, when the City Council passed a resolution opposing the structure.
Mt. SAC board members have repeatedly declined to answer questions about Walnut’s opposition.
Opposition to the $45 million parking garage began publicly in April when Timberline residents protested the structure, which is to be built on the northwest edge of the 420-acre campus along Mountaineer Way. Mt. SAC officials said they agreed to build part of the garage underground to preserve views of nearby homes.
Later, residents and the City Council demanded the college build the structure on a part of the campus not adjacent to homes, such as the south side near the athletic fields. But Scroggins said the college wants to locate the garage near the new classroom buildings, bookstore and cafeteria, so students would use it.
The city is questioning the authority of the college to act without its approval, even though community colleges answer to the state, not local authorities. Wishner said the city has learned the college has not adopted an exemption to local zoning rules as required.
Residents and the city are also questioning whether the college notified voters of the project during the campaign for Measure RR, a $353-million bond measure approved by voters in 2008. Scroggins said the parking project was included in materials handed out to residents explaining Measure RR.
“We believe the bond documents did not clearly indicate a parking structure,” Wishner said.
Walnut’s city attorney has sent a letter to the college, citing a case in which a group from San Diego sued the school district for using bond funds to erect lights at a high school stadium. The Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending initially lost in Superior Court, but the ruling was overturned in their favor by the Court of Appeals earlier this year.
Wishner said the San Diego case will be part of the information presented by the City Council to the Mt. SAC board tonight.