3-3 Split After Vote Confusion, Item Carries to Feb. 28 Agenda
By Ian Waters and Li Khan, Staff Writers
February 25, 2023
The Peralta Community College District (PCCD) Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Feb. 24 to interview four candidates for the Area 2 vacant seat. The board delayed appointing a new member until Tuesday’s meeting after coming to a standstill with interests split between Paulina Gonzales-Brito and Adrien Abuyen.
Each interviewee was asked the same set of five questions, covering topics such as community experience, fiscal challenges, and the candidate’s philosophy of management. The board incorporated some of the questions that The Citizen submitted for consideration.
Adrien Abuyen is a College of Alameda alum and former student trustee on the board. His most recent employment was as the campaign director for Ignacio de la Fuente’s mayoral campaign, while also operating as a board member for SOS Meals on Wheels. Abuyen also has a history of student body involvement, both in the Peralta district and at UC Berkeley. During the interview he placed a strong emphasis on empowering and activating students.
“My goal is to bring a student centered focus to a [sic] board,” Abuyen said.
Adrien Abuyen also currently serves as RepresentED Leadership’s board president, a company which PCCD has contracted with before. The board will consider approval of a new $210,000 contract with the company during their Feb. 28 meeting.
Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, the other leading candidate, is the CEO of the California Reinvestment Coalition, which represents over 300 organizations that foster economic development for low income communities and communities of color. As CEO, Gonzalez-Brito has worked to “close the racial wealth gap” for nine years, and now hopes to use that experience to serve Peralta, believing that community colleges play a role in increasing incomes.
“I’ve learned over that time that to succeed we need more than economic development, we need […] to invest in education,” Gonzalez-Brito said.
Gonzalez-Brito also emphasized the importance of the district having a “strategic enrollment plan” as well as clear audits.
Both Gonzalez-Brito and Abuyen stated their intention to run for the seat again in the 2024 elections, with Gonzalez-Brito intending to serve “as long as the voters will have me.”
Daniel Alvarado is a Laney College alum and works as the developer community coordinator for New Relic software. Citing his classwork taken at Laney, bachelor’s in marketing, and employment at various tech institutes, Alvarado seeks to use a data-driven approach to increase PCCD enrollment and awareness about student success initiatives.
Nida Khalil, who serves as community school manager at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), was the last to be interviewed. Khalil highlighted her experience with managing partnerships at OUSD, as well as facing issues with enrollment, and uplifting students.
Deliberation and Attempted Vote
Following the interviews, the board moved to deliberate over who it would appoint to fill the vacant seat. Trustees Nicky González Yuen, Louis Quindlen, and Cindi Napoli-Abella Reiss leaned strongly towards Gonzalez-Brito, stressing the value of their experience and knowledge as a CEO of a statewide coalition.
“We’re stuck as a district,” said Yuen, pointing to the district’s declining enrollment numbers as an example. “I think that Paulina brings a different voice – just a completely different way of thinking about this institution as an engine of community growth.”
Trustees Bill Withrow and Dyana Delfín Polk strongly favored Abuyen. Trustee Sheweet Yohannes was uncertain at first, but ultimately said that Abuyen’s “student perspective” was more valuable to the board.
“I think because he has his ear closer to the students, that knowledge can be brought to the board,” Yohannes said.
Piggybacking off of Yohannes’s comments, Polk highlighted what Abuyen’s former role as a student trustee represents.
“What does it say that we say no to having [the student trustee] come back and serve their community?” Polk asked. “This is exactly what we tell our student trustees to do.”
Student Trustee Leesa Hogan, who serves an advisory role on the board, echoed Polk’s comments and expressed her own feelings on the prospect of the board rejecting Abuyen’s application.
“It would send a really negative message to me as a student trustee,” Hogan said.
Responding to Hogan and Polk’s comments, Reiss said “it’s a little unfair to reframe the discussion in ‘what would the community feel if we said no to our student trustee,’” and “we’re actually saying ‘maybe yes’ to a student trustee.” She added, speaking directly to Hogan, “I would love to see you come back and […] become a trustee too.”
As a student trustee, Hogan’s advisory vote on the appointment is not counted towards the final decision.
After the period of deliberation, Quindlen motioned to appoint Gonzales-Brito, with a second motion from Yuen. An initial vote of 4-2 was met with confusion, as Withrow voted contrary to his previously stated support of Abuyen.
District legal counsel Nitasha Sawhney asked for clarification immediately after the vote.
“Can I confirm…because Trustee Withrow’s comments were so strong I just want to confirm that he understood the question,” Sawhney said.
As Withrow consulted with Yohannes, Sawhney reiterated the motion and asked for the trustee to confirm his vote.
“It’s a negative…absolute negative,” Withrow said, “I thought it was a different motion.”
After the motion’s intent was re-clarified, Withrow changed his vote leading to a 3-3 tie.
A motion was passed to adjourn the discussion, allowing for further deliberation to occur at the regular meeting on Feb. 28. Per California Education Code § 5091, if the board fails to come to a consensus by March 10, the process will default to holding a special election.