OCC gives public a look at development plans

Orange Coast College opened its doors in 1948, when a loaf of bread cost around 10 cents and the Costa Mesa campus served 500 students.

But enrollment has swelled to around 22,000 today, and college officials are planning for continued growth with a development blueprint called Vision 2020.

Nearby residents who spoke at a community meeting led by OCC administrators Thursday night indicated they don't love the vision. The plan, the subject of an ongoing environmental review, calls for several new buildings, including student dorms, a hotel, a four-story parking structure, a planetarium, and a math, business and computing center. The construction would take place over the next decade or longer.

The college is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, a high school and the Orange County fairgrounds. A draft environmental report released in June said the college's plan would increase noise and pollution in the area and worsen traffic congestion, particularly at one of the city's busiest intersections, Harbor Boulevard and Adams Avenue.

College officials said Thursday that consultants are conducting a series of studies on traffic and the feasibility of having student dorms. One study is looking at the possibility of preserving historically significant buildings by architect Richard Neutra and others in a historic district that might span 40 acres.

Rich Pagel, vice president of administrative services at the college, said an additional study found that constructing a bridge across Fairview Road leading to the proposed parking structure — an idea floated by the city — would cost $8 million. The price might lead the college to rethink or scrap that project, Pagel said.

Several residents asked when they could review and weigh in on the studies. Tempers flared when college officials said the comment period had passed. Officials said the meeting Thursday wasn't about the environmental report and was meant to inform the public.

"So there won't be any new information in these studies?" asked Sandy Genis, a Costa Mesa councilwoman. "How do you get there from here, because this basically assumes no public review."

Pagel said residents would have another chance to air their opinions at a community meeting in April. He said the environmental report and project recommendations would probably go to Coast Community College District trustees later that month.

Several residents said they had been told the plan would change, and now they were being told it wouldn't change.

"This is a rubber stamp," said Andrew Bergelin, who lives in the nearby College Park housing tract.

District Trustee Mary Hornbuckle told residents that their "voices are being heard." She said some decisions hinge on the results of studies that are still underway. She said besides two shovel-ready projects — a planetarium and a recycling center expansion — the other projects are very long term.

"I told you there would be changes to the plan, and I'm sure there will be, but I don't know what they'll be," Hornbuckle said.

The cost of all the construction called for in the plan has been estimated at $319 million, according to the Vision 2020 Facilities Master Plan. It was to be paid for with a mix of state bond funds, private donations and Measure M money. Measure M was a $698-million bond measure approved in 2012 for improvements at the district's three colleges.

But state bond money never materialized because of lack of support by Gov. Jerry Brown, Pagel said, and this may force the college to scale down or delay some projects.

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