Citing economic concerns heightened by inflation and low support for upgrading Veterans Stadium, a consultant recommended that Long Beach City College not move forward with placing a bond measure on the November ballot.
The LBCC Board of Trustees had been mulling whether to put a $285 million bond measure on the November ballot to finance a complete rebuild of Veterans Stadium, where the college’s and other area sports teams host games, and to potentially build student housing.
Veterans Stadium opened on the LBCC Liberal Arts Campus in 1950, but has fallen into disrepair with seismic issues leading to the college seeking a complete rebuild.
However, the high cost of gas and other “pocketbook issues” weighed heavily on likely voters’ support of the bond measure and led to the recommendation made during a special meeting of the board Wednesday night.
“We are in a very challenging economic environment; proceeding this year is not a viable option,” said Catherine Lew, president of the Lew Edwards Group, a consulting firm hired by the college that specializes in ballot measures.
Fears of a recession continue to linger as fresh Consumer Price Index data released this week showed prices in June were up over 9% nationally and gas continues to average nearly $6 per gallon in Los Angeles County. There are also rumors that the Federal Reserve could boost the interest rate again after a three-quarter of a percent increase earlier this year.
The bond measure would have levied a $19 tax on every $100,000 of assessed property value for every home in the college’s service area including Long Beach, Signal Hill, Avalon and Lakewood. It would have needed 55% support to be adopted by voters.
Economics aside, fixing up the stadium didn’t appear to be at the top of voters’ priority list.
The consultants surveyed 644 people and asked what they supported making investments in, and repairing the structural deterioration at Veterans Stadium polled near the bottom of the list.
John Fairbank, a co-founder of FM3 Research, showed the board Wednesday that voters thought it was either very important or extremely important to provide safe and clean drinking water (79%), meet earthquake safety standards (72%) and upgrade student safety (68%).
Making repairs to the stadium (57%) and building campus dorms or student housing (52%) had the lowest combination of voters saying it was either very important or extremely important.
Board President Uduak Joe-Ntuk said he was disappointed with the results but respected that these were challenging times with a lot of economic uncertainty.
LBCC Superintendent-President Mike Munoz said the board would continue to discuss funding for the project at its upcoming retreat and said the issue could be revisited in 2024.
The percentage of voters who thought the district needed more funding also dropped between 2015 and this year. Voters approved a $850 million bond measure named Measure LB in 2016 and that may have eroded support for a bond this year.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents cited Measure LB as a reason to vote against a bond measure this year if the trustees put it on the ballot. High taxes (63%) was the second largest concern for survey respondents.
Since 2008, the college has benefited from two bond measures totaling nearly $1.3 billion, and had about $89 million remaining for the stadium project.
An original estimate of $20 million for a renovation of the stadium has escalated to between $141 million and $185 million earlier this year, when the board was presented with options to renovate the structure, or tear it down and rebuild it.
The board opted to poll residents on a $285 million bond measure instead of seeking only the funding needed to close the gap of the escalating stadium project cost, with college officials saying it would free up funding to pursue other priorities like upgrading classroom security systems and building student housing.
The board was expected to vote at its regular meeting next week whether to place the bond measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, but their remarks Wednesday suggested they will likely hold off and seek alternative funding options for the stadium project.
Long Beach voters are expected to decide a number of local ballot measures in the November election.
Three charter amendments are expected to be placed on the ballot by the City Council that could affect police oversight, future election scheduling and a potential merger of the city’s gas and water utilities. Voters could also be asked to approve raising the minimum wage of all workers in local health care institutions if the City Council doesn’t adopt the proposal outright in the coming weeks.