City College Postpones Aeronautics Move to Evans

Illustration by Manon Cadenaule/The Guardsman

By Tobin Jones 

Facing opposition from faculty and suspicion from community members, City College announced on Thursday, Nov. 12, that it would be postponing plans to relocate the Aeronautics and Aircraft Maintenance Technology Programs from their longtime home at the San Francisco International (SFO) Airport Campus to the college’s Evans campus on the edge of the Bayview neighborhood.

City College had initially wanted to complete the move in time to offer courses from the program at Evans Campus  Spring 2021 Semester. But the plan provoked an almost immediate protest from faculty and their representatives when it was first publicized in March of this year.

Staff from the Aeronautics department decried the classrooms allocated to them at Evans as too small to accommodate the needs of the program and fretted that these deficiencies would jeopardize the program’s certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Those already teaching classes at Evans worried that the program would displace them from their classrooms, forcing them to compete for space with other courses. Others expressed concern over the potential environmental and noise impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.

Program’s Search for a New Home

The Aeronautics and Aircraft Maintenance Technology Program’s history at the airport location dates back to 1977 when City College signed a 40-year lease with San Francisco International Airport for the rent of $1 a year. According to college officials, when the lease expired in 2017, they were told by SFO representatives that it would not be renewed. With help from the Mayor’s office, the college was able to negotiate an extension until the end of 2020, giving them time to locate another space at the airport.

Interim-Chancellor Rajen Vurdein says that he and his predecessors had tried to work with SFO to locate a new site, but that they were unable to come to an agreement that was both practical and affordable. All of the proposed locations, he said, were either too expensive or unavailable. In Spring 2020, he said, they made a last-ditch effort to reach out to SFO’s Chief Operating Officer and were told that proposed sites were now all required for the planned expansion of the airport.

Despite Chancellor Vurdien’s insistence that City College had exhausted every possible avenue, some faculty expressed skepticism. One instructor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled the aviation industry worldwide, has resulted in the temporary cancellation of SFO’s planned expansion, potentially giving the college much more leeway to negotiate.

Stephen Brady, the faculty union AFT 2121 site representative for the Evans Campus, said that there were numerous alternative sites that the college had not looked into, such as the warehouses at Fort Mason, the former Exploratorium building at the Palace of Fine Arts, and a number of locations on Treasure Island. “There’s lots of other areas to look at,” he said. “And I really don’t feel that that college has made an effort.”

Staff, Students and Community Sound Off

At a hastily convened town hall meeting on November the 12th to discuss the future of Evans Campus, dozens of faculty and community members gave voice to the anger many feel about how the process has been conducted.

Alyssa Jones-Garner, a Bayview resident and former Associated Student Council member, voiced frustration at what she said was a lack of transparency by the administration regarding the potential environmental impacts on the historically African-American Bayview neighborhood, which has often been used as a dumping ground for San Francisco’s most hazardous and toxic industries.

“Everything that the city does not want to have to deal with like the water treatment plant, the power plant, industrial waste, radioactive waste, has always been dumped in this community and now it sounds like you want to add another harmful element into an embattled community,” she told the Chancellor.

“Have you discussed the potential health impacts? Have you done any noise abatement studies? Have you done any environmental studies? Because you haven’t cited one. You haven’t even referred to one that’s been done about the potential environmental impacts of bringing this program into a largely residential area with the largest population of children in the entire city.”

“I would like to hear some comment about the lead in the gasoline that is going to be used for these (jet) engines,” said Andrew Saunders, who teaches motorcycle repair and maintenance at Evans.  “Because if they have to run on the campus, they’re going to be putting lead into the air.” He also raised concerns about the potential loss of the program’s FAA accreditation.

Students and faculty of the Aeronautics and Aircraft Maintenance Technology programs seemed pessimistic if resigned to the inevitability of the move. The department’s chairman, Kenny Verbeckmoes asked that community members and those in departments that stand to be displaced by the move not take it out on the program. “We’re not the villains here…We’re just trying to survive.”

David Luo, a student in the Aircraft Maintenance Technology Program, told the Guardsman that he is worried about space issues at the new site. “We’ll have to share the same small campus with other courses,” he said, and said that ideally, the program would move to a “Bigger campus…where we can put all the engines and airplanes without the need to share the same workshop.”

College officials had initially insisted that, while the move was not ideal, many of the fears expressed by members of the college community and Evans neighbors were overblown. Facilities Dean Torrance Bynum said that jet engines would be run no more than once a semester and that this process would occur off-site, potentially at SFO, though nowhere has yet been secured. He also said that City College was working with the FAA to ensure accreditation.

However, just over a week after giving these assurances, Chancellor Vurdien announced the postponement of the move, citing delays in required environmental studies and the FAA certification process. The program will still vacate its current location at SFO, but its equipment will be placed in storage until it can be moved to Evans.

City College spokeswoman Rosie Zepeda admitted that the college had not anticipated some of the difficulties of the processes of environmental review and FAA approval, but said that she believed the delay could be a positive development. “It gives us a lot more time to engage with the community, and for the community to be informed, and part of the process.”

The college will hold additional public town hall meetings on the future of the program via Zoom on Nov. 18, and Dec. 2, 9, and 16.


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