Who's following the money? - Page 3

Not the City College bond oversight panel, which rarely meets and has seen no serious audits of half a billion in spending

Other districts statewide, however, appear to have interpreted Prop. 39 the same way City College has. And the Attorney General's Office has never issued an opinion clarifying the matter.

Meanwhile, City College officials blame the millions of dollars in outsize project costs on inflation, a globally increased demand for steel and concrete, and slow-moving state regulators who must approve architectural designs.

"I understand both the college as well as the community would like to see us complete every single project we've proposed," Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein told us recently. "We absolutely share that desire. The reality of cost increases has forced us to go back and look at our resources and reallocate in order to keep major projects going forward."

But Kopp and company argue that much earlier performance inspections would have revealed to the oversight committee and trustees where the increase in expenses came from with absolute certainty. That way, no one would have to rely exclusively on the glitzy project presentations made by Day and Goldstein that are often little more than slide shows with quotes from prominent business journals decrying the rising cost of construction materials. Trustee Marks has moaned repeatedly at board meetings that he doesn't feel informed enough to vote on major reallocations, and his constant questions haven't always made him popular.

"I think there's this feeling that the board should not be adversarial," Marks said. "But I think by the nature of how things are set up, we have to be.... We have to look out for the best interests of the public at large."

Not everything's rosy in West Contra Costa, of course. Anton Jungherr, a former San Francisco Unified School District official, sat on the West Contra Costa oversight committee for four years and fumed in an interview that the district didn't take seriously the committee's regular recommendations. He wants to form a statewide association of oversight committees to arm citizens with the information they need to track bond expenditures.

"There are legitimate reasons for change orders, but you have to analyze them and understand what the reasons are and then take the appropriate oversight action," Jungherr said.

But cost overruns in West Contra Costa still pale when compared with those at City College. Jungherr said that district has experienced about $100 million in unexpected costs on $850 million in projects undertaken since 2000, substantially less than what City College faces despite hundreds of millions of dollars more in bond projects.

Kopp still hopes City College's oversight committee will build more muscle.

"If they were to show us documents they used themselves in monitoring all these things, that could substitute as long as the information was relevant and honest," Kopp said. "But it's really been quite shallow all along."<\!s>*

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