Thursday, October 30, 2008

GOP candidate's role in college woes explored

GOP congressional challenger Dean Andal's role in San Joaquin Delta Community College's beleaguered Mountain House campus project was greater than he has portrayed but less significant than his critics have asserted.

The project, delayed by escalating costs and the poor economy, has become a contentious issue in the former Stockton assemblyman's campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton.

His opponents have raised the question in candidate forums and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has produced several largely misleading mailers and a television ad on the subject.

Interviews and reviews of a grand jury report, public records and news accounts show that Andal was a key negotiator in the talks between the college and his boss, landowner and developer Gerry Kamilos.

He made promises in public and in e-mails that Kamilos did not keep including a vow to finish the infrastructure leading to the college's property by August 2007, which would have allowed classes to begin that fall.

Delays because of the protracted talks and the faltering economy have nearly doubled construction costs to $94 million and forced the college district to scale back the Mountain House campus and reschedule the opening to fall 2009.

However, Andal was not responsible for the Delta College board's original decision to buy land in Mountain House or to pursue a satellite campus there. Those decisions were made before he Advertisementbegan consulting for Kamilos.

Nor was he to blame for Kamilos' inability to deliver on time letters of credit the college demanded as security.

The San Joaquin County grand jury mostly blames the college, saying its board and staff were ill-prepared to deal with the complexities of a partnership with a private developer.

"There were a lot of promises made and lot of deadlines were missed and lot of them were on their side and a lot of it was us, too," said Delta College President Raul Rodriguez.

Regardless of how much responsibility is Andal's, critics call him a hypocrite who bills himself as a fiscal watchdog but lobbied on behalf of a developer for a project that has gone terribly wrong.

Andal says the allegations are baseless. He faults the San Joaquin Delta College board of trustees, which has sole authority over its actions.

"There have been bureaucratic boondoggles and delays and I haven't had anything to do with them," Andal said in mid-October during a debate with McNerney.

However, it is not true that he had no involvement.

The college bought the 110-acre parcel in 2003.

The following year, the college district's voters passed a $250 million bond program, which designated $55 million to "establish and expand San Joaquin Delta College Education Center in Tracy/Mountain House Area."

The votes were barely counted before the trouble started.

Trimark, master developer at Mountain House, insisted the college pay millions of dollars for its share of shared facilities such as streets and parks in the new town east of Tracy.

College officials insisted they could not legally use public money to pay for off-site infrastructure and they did not have the funds, anyway.

Stymied, the college asked Kamilos for help in early 2005.

He is the principal in a group of Mountain House investors who own land adjacent to the college's parcel.

At the time, Kamilos was preparing a plan necessary to secure final county approval to build houses, businesses and shops on his and his partners' property. Kamilos folded the college into the plan and said he would pay to bring the infrastructure to the college site, although the amount would later be disputed.

In November 2004, Kamilos hired Andal to coordinate the planning work at a salary of $6,205 a month, or $74,460 a year, plus a bonus of one-half of 1 percent of land sales. Two contracts with Andal for other projects brought his total income from Kamilos' companies to about $251,000 a year.

But the college and Kamilos began quarreling over how much of the off-site costs the developer would pay. Delta also wanted a California bank to guarantee payment.

Andal was Kamilos' chief negotiator, said college President Raul Rodriguez.

"Dean was helping broker the deal," Rodriguez said. "When Gerry wasn't there, we dealt directly with Dean."

Discouraged by the delays, the college entertained other options.

The fight was on when Tracy offered a site that the college district considered superior to Mountain House. Critics say Andal and Kamilos lobbied to keep the college in Mountain House because it helped them meet a county-mandated jobs-housing balance and boosted land values and profit.

Andal disagreed. He said his boss helped the college when no one else would and will make one of the largest private donations to a community college in California history.

He said he urged college trustees to stick with Mountain House because it made financial sense for the district. Starting over in Tracy would cost far more, he said.

"But whether or not the Mountain House campus is ever built does not benefit me financially," Andal said.

The district and Kamilos inked a deal in November 2005.

A week later, the county approved what was called Specific Plan III for the full 805-acre project, including the college, 2,427 houses and a business center called College Park.

College leaders grew anxious when the letters of credit failed to materialize as promised.

In a closed-session legal strategy meeting at a board retreat in early 2006, the trustees decided to reopen talks with Tracy and to consider declaring Kamilos in breach of contract.

The real estate market was cooling and developers avoid building costly infrastructure for houses they cannot sell. The district feared Kamilos was stalling and it needed streets and utilities to proceed.

The district never made good on its threat, chiefly because Kamilos quickly quashed it.

The grand jury concluded — and the college board concurred — that two unnamed trustees called Kamilos after the meeting and illegally told him of the confidential discussion.

Then board Chairman Ted Simas, a longtime Manteca Republican, said Andal called him the day after the meeting.

"He said, 'I heard you are considering declaring a breach of contract and going to Tracy,'" Simas said. "I asked him how he knew that and he said, 'Two of your trustees called my boss last night.' I swear that's what he said and I would meet him face to face and take a polygraph test."

Andal adamantly denies that he made the statement to Simas or that he received confidential information from anyone.

"I didn't even know there had been a retreat," Andal said. "I knew what everyone knew, that the letters of credit were late."

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  • U.S. government OKs Delta, Northwest merger
  • Mailers focusing on Andal misleading
  • Contra Costa college district chief named to U.S. student-aid board