Pierce College Farm Center directors Robert and Cathy McBroom reached out to Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees candidates in a last-ditch effort to save the Farm Center, which is set to permanently close in April.
Until last December, the Farm Center would regularly host birthday parties and field trips, as well as loan its eight ponies to Pierce to be used in the equine studies program each week. The center also donated about 60 percent of its crop yields to local homeless shelters.
Board of Trustees hopefuls Glenn Bailey, Jozef Essavi and Steve Schulte are the only candidates who have visited the Farm Center. Essavi and Schulte visited it on Friday to discuss how they would respond to its closure if they were elected.
Current board members have shied away from the Farm Center, according to Essavi.
“They won’t talk about it because the unions, the special interests, the developers, the contractors ‒ they own this board,” Essavi said. “They don’t answer to you or to me. They don’t answer to the community. They don’t answer to the taxpayers.”
Robert McBroom was frustrated with the current Board of Trustees because they have been inaccessible and unwilling to discuss plans for the property.
“It concerns me that the board is not accessible to you [McBroom] personally,” said Schulte, who is currently running against board President Scott Svonkin.
Schulte said the Board is trying to “cul-de-sac” the McBrooms from “any academic operations at all.”
The McBroom family, which has run the Farm Center for 10 years, disputes claims by Pierce President Kathleen Burke that the center is too expensive for Pierce to operate. They say that they run the operation at no cost to the college.
“Although all the bills like utilities come in through the campus’ name, they’re emailed to us, and we go and rewrite every check for every bill,” said Robert McBroom.
McBroom said he has attempted “many” times to convince President Burke to visit the Farm Center, which is located just across campus from her administrative office.
“I reached out to Kathleen [Burke] from the moment she set foot as president of this college, and she refused from day one to the day she evicted us to ever come out and take a tour of the property,” Robert McBroom said.
McBroom described the process through which President Burke was appointed, and said it lacks oversight.
“The district trustees, based on the fact that they’ve appointed a president, hold all of the respect for the president based on their credibility as holding the office,” said McBroom. “There’s no checks and balances in the process.”
Schulte agreed, and said that one of his goals if elected would be to increase transparency in the Board of Trustees.
“It is 180 degrees the opposite of what I would call accountability,” said Schulte.
Ultimately, the future of the property is unclear, but McBroom said he doubts it will be used for educational purposes.
“This is about the battle between prime farmland and prime real estate,” said McBroom, who maintains his belief that the land will be sold and used by developers to potentially build new retail stores to accommodate the growing population of Warner Center.
“It’s all about putting a retail establishment here. I’m convinced of it,” McBroom said.