LA Observed on KCRW *

My weekly column on KCRW -- on the air at 6:44 p.m. -- praises the L.A. Times' series on the community college building program but notes that the college trustees on the ballot Tuesday will still be invisible to most voters. Even to readers of the Times, which neither covered the race nor endorsed any candidates. [A point I made yesterday.] You can listen on if you're not in the car, or the text version is after the jump.

* Noted: The Times ran another story on the race on Election Day morning.

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

If you live in one of the cities where there’s an election tomorrow, you already know that it’s hard to get information on how to vote.

You have to work to find useful, unbiased insight. And in some races, you’re just out of luck.

This has always been true to some degree in Los Angeles, where the giant city is surrounded by 87 smaller cities that mostly no reporters cover.

But it’s becoming even more true as the news media shrinks its glare onto fewer and fewer subjects that don’t have to do with partisan politics, crime or celebrity hijinks.

The races on Tuesday’s ballot with the most voters left in the dark are for seats on the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees.

That’s a body that you mostly never hear anything about. Even though it’s where Governor Jerry Brown got his first start in elective office, way back in 1969.

Brown didn’t stay long. But for the most part, the budding politicians who get elected to the college board in LA tend to stay around.

Nobody pays them any attention. And they get reelected every four years.

One of the incumbents on the board, a former college professor named Mona Field, has been an elected trustee since 1999.

That should make her a household name in LA, right? Well – had you heard of her before?

The reason you might have heard of her recently is that the Los Angeles Times has just completed a week-long expose of the college district.

Reporters Michael Finnegan and Gale Holland spent 18 months investigating the district’s $5.7-billion program to rebuild L.A.'s community colleges. They interviewed more than 200 people and visited all nine colleges that the trustees oversee.

What they found is the kind of mistakes and outrages that make great fodder for satire and talk radio.

Buildings erected crookedly. Construction errors so egregious you want to believe the stories are made up. But they’re real.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. At Mission College in the Valley, a vice president who helped oversee the construction program also owned one of the subcontractors with her husband.

The paper mapped out, in spiffy online graphics, how the builders who did shoddy work at campuses across the city also had poured money into the election campaigns of the trustees.

The district has fired back with the argument that, hey, plenty of buildings went up fine. Where were the stories on them? Or on the students who get educated at the community colleges every day?

If you run a clean house, you can make that argument. But the college trustees really can’t go there.

The irony of the Times’ college series is that even the paper hasn’t covered the trustee races.

All the races on the ballot are contested. But there’s been just one news story, a roundup set piece that tells you nothing about the candidates.

The Times editorial page has published recommendations for almost every office – even advising its readers in tiny Bell how to vote on Tuesday.

But not on the candidates running for college trustee. For that, you’re still on your own.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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