As the permanent City College of San Francisco Chinatown campus continues to face roadblocks, candidates vying for the four open seats on the Board of Trustees in the November election participated in a lively forum on its status Oct. 14.
Approximately 80 people attended the event held in the Chinese Culture Center, which featured all nine candidates including Roberto Figueroa, Mary Hernandez, Chris Jackson, Carl Koehler, Steve Ngo, Bruce Wolfe, and incumbents Natalie Berg, Milton Marks, and Rodel Rodis.
The Chinatown campus is currently facing two pending lawsuits: one from business owners in the nearby Montgomery Washington tower, and the other from a coalition of neighborhood residents called Neighbors for Preservation, Land Use and Community Education.
Ngo, an attorney, called the suits “frivolous and baseless.”
“The lawsuits were filed to exercise leverage over the board and to stop the campus,” Ngo said. “I don’t think there’s a strong case and we should not settle under any conditions.”
To ensure the campus is built, Koehler, a retired chief deputy sheriff, said he would choose a chancellor who will make it his or her priority to move the project forward and would hold him or her accountable.
As incumbents who have served multiple terms, Berg, Marks and Rodis addressed why the Chinatown campus has not been built during their tenure.
Milton cited the reallocation of money for other projects, against which he claims he fought. Berg asserted that money has been reallocated, but it has not affected the campus.
“Those of us working from the inside know the difficulties,” said Rodis, citing the lack of money to purchase the building and fund its construction, along with opposition from powerful interest groups. “We are doing everything we can to make this campus happen.”
Candidates also tackled whether undocumented students are welcome at City College and should have access to financial aid.
“Given our background and ideals as a state and country, it is good public policy to ensure that everyone who wants an education has the opportunity to do so,” said Ngo.
“Anyone who wants to get an education to become a productive member in our society and community should be able to do so,” Rodis agreed.
Eva Auyeung, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, and Ronnie Rhoe, director of community development with Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), moderated the event in which candidates overall expressed their support for allocating the necessary funds for the permanent Chinatown/North Beach campus, strengthening the Vocational English as a Second Language classes and creating affirmative hiring practices for impacted Chinatown residents during City College construction projects.
This was the first City College Board forum that CAA has organized.
“Typically, the City College Board of Trustees race is not a big election, but because the Chinatown campus is such a huge issue for the Chinatown community, we decided to host the forum,” said Susan Hsieh, communications and membership coordinator for CAA.