A new direction for City College

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EDITORIAL It's time — way past time — for new leadership on the San Francisco community college board. The panel has devolved over the past few years into a patronage-and-sleaze cesspool allowing an out-of-control chancellor to play games with public money, piss off neighborhoods with ill-conceived development projects, and damage the programs and reputation of the school.

The incumbents who have controlled the board for years — Lawrence Wong, Natalie Berg, Rodel Rodis, and Johnnie Carter — have been active participants in all the problems, and we've argued repeatedly that all of them need to go.

In this past fall's election, a challenger, John Rizzo, defeated Carter, giving the board a very different political character. There are now three solid reform votes on the board — Rizzo, Milton Marks III, and Julio Ramos — and one, Anita Grier, who can be cajoled and convinced to join the right side most of the time.

The board will be meeting Jan. 25 to choose a new president, and by most accounts none of the three top reformers can win the job — but Grier probably can, and she's a decent choice. At the very least, she won't play the sort of role that Berg has played in the past as a nonresponsive, unaccountable call-up vote for the chancellor. The vice presidential slot is trickier; there's a move afoot to award that job to Wong just to preserve some political balance. That would be a huge mistake.

Just look at the recent record: several years ago City College took millions of dollars in bond money that was earmarked for a performing arts center and shifted it to pay for a new gym with a swimming pool that will be rented to a private school across the street. Now the college has approved a $122 million budget for a new 17-story high-rise in North Beach that has the neighbors up in arms — and school officials say they aren't required to abide by the city's zoning laws.

The board needs a dramatic turnaround, and the only way to make that happen is to ensure that none of the old guard are in any positions of power. Since Rizzo is new to the board, the best candidate for vice president is Marks, who should have been president last time around but was aced out by Berg and her allies.

It's been an unwritten tradition on the college board that the person who gets the most votes becomes president; in 2004 that was Marks, who came in with more than 160,000 votes. This time it's Grier.

Based on their respective popularity with voters, the choice between Marks and Wong for vice president is a no-brainer. Wong was reelected with just 88,000 votes — half as many as Marks.

But that's not the biggest issue. The real point here is that Wong has no business serving as an officer of the community college board, and Marks does.

Electing Grier and Marks won't solve all the problems at City College — but it will be a big step in the right direction. *