By C. Harold Pierce
The Santa Ana City Council unanimously approved a five-year lease extension Feb. 4 for the Centennial Education Center at Centennial Park.
But the city wants more compensation.
“This is temporary. This is a band-aid. Significant compensation to the city is needed, or relocation,” Councilman David Benavides said.
As part of the new agreement, Rancho Santiago Community College District must update the city twice a year on the long-term direction of CEC.
Some of the options include finding another park space in the city, replacing the 2.6 acres of city property it occupies, or begin paying land rent to stay in the park.
The district is not charged rent for the space. Instead, it pays 7 percent of maintenance expenses for common areas. In 2012, it paid about $27,000, according to district records.
CEC, a state-funded education center founded in 1979, offers classes in English as a second language, general education degrees and career technical education at no cost. It serves about 20,000 students annually.
Benavides says the district requested the new agreement at the last minute to pressure the council into renewing the lease.
“They wait till the last hour when time is due and then we’re hard pressed to extend. It would be very challenging to charge a school with finding a new location in a few months,” Benavides said.
Not wanting to see about 20,000 students turned away from an education, Benavides voted in favor of an extension.
A group of about 20 residents from neighborhoods surrounding CEC have been waiting out the 30-year lease, lobbing complaints about limited parking and fewer parks in an urban city that is short on open space.
But some council members value the impact the school has on the community.
“I’m not going to let a group of people who are constantly negative mess up an opportunity that we could have for this community. We’re not dealing with an oil company that wants to drill in our park – we’re dealing with a learning institute that increases the quality of life in this community,” Councilman Sal Tinajero said.
Tinajero’s mother graduated from CEC with a high school diploma.
The district planned to construct a two-story building costing $7.5 million, but plans are on hold with the city until a long-term lease is negotiated, said Gerardo Mouet, executive director of the Parks, Recreation and Community Service Agency.
“If they [CEC] come back in another five years, I won’t support it. I’m all for opening up space in the city, but if it’s not equitable, we cannot afford to give away the city and give away our open space,” Councilman Roman Reyna said.