OCC expansion plans worry neighbors

Costa Mesa residents will likely see increased traffic on city streets and more noise during construction as Orange Coast College moves forward with its Vision 2020 plan for expansion, according to an environmental impact report.

The 486-page document released in June looks at how the college's 10-year expansion plan could affect the rest of the city in terms of aesthetics, traffic, pollution and noise.

The project would add traffic to the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Adams Avenue, which is already one of the city's busier intersections, the report states.

The Coast Community College District, which OCC is part of, would need to contribute funds to improving the intersection by widening it or restriping southbound Harbor Boulevard to provide a second right-turn lane onto westbound Adams. In addition, the district would have to pay to widen or restripe eastbound Adams Avenue to provide a third left-turn lane onto northbound Harbor, the report states.

The city recently spent $3 million to improve traffic flow at Harbor and Adams, according to information on its website.

City officials are reviewing the environmental impact report, or EIR, and plan to give their input to the college within the next few weeks, said Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz.

The college's Vision 2020 plan includes six new structures: a business, math and computing center building; a parking structure, which will likely be housed across the street at the Fairgrounds; new physical education facilities; a solar panel carport area; a language arts and social sciences building; and a multidisciplinary building.

OCC also plans to expand the recycling center and remove several existing classrooms from the campus' interior.


Push to expand

The college has ramped up the development of new buildings over the past several years, in part because of Measure M, a $698-million bond that voters approved in 2012 to fund improvements at the district's three colleges, OCC officials said. Golden West College in Huntington Beach and Coastline Community College, which is based in Fountain Valley and has a campus in Newport Beach, are also part of the district.

OCC's campus is also facing a rapidly increasing student population, which necessitates more classroom space.

In 1956, just a few years after the campus was unveiled, the college served 1,500 students. By 2020, its enrollment will reach more than 28,000 students, according to the EIR.

"We're trying to create Orange Coast College for the next 50 years," said President Dennis Harkins.

At the same time, the college must balance the needs of residents who live behind Merrimac Way and across Adams, Harkins said.


Residents are unhappy

About 20 Costa Mesa residents, mostly from the College Park neighborhood behind Merrimac, attended a public forum Monday night where they called for increased transparency and information about the construction projects outlined in the EIR.

To comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, the college was required to distribute the report to neighbors within 500 feet of the college and give them 45 days to make their comments, which will be included in the final report presented to the district's board of trustees in September.

But many residents complained that they didn't receive the report at their homes and didn't have an adequate amount of time to review it and form questions.

"This document was shoved down our throats," said Jack Lucas, who lives in the College Park neighborhood adjacent to the college. "We have to digest 500 pages in a few days. That's not enough time."

Residents said there were many unanswered questions about various projects in the report, which college officials chalked up to the plan's 10-year timeline.

The need for and placement of a proposed campus residence and multi-use building were debated fervently during the meeting.

"I know you have to expand, but this seems excessive," resident Al Robertson said to college officials. "I don't think you're being considerate of that."


Newest development projects

The proposed student residence, which is slated to be built between 2017 and 2019, would house 1,800 students. It is planned for the corner of Adams and the campus entry in what is now the Adams Parking Lot.

The four-story multi-use building would consist of commercial and retail uses on the street level and a boutique hotel on the upper levels. It is slated to be built on the corner of Merrimac and Fairview Road.

Commercial uses could include restaurants, retail spaces, meeting space and a ballroom. The boutique hotel would provide up to 145 rooms that would be operated by students, according to the EIR and campus officials. The project has not yet been scheduled for construction.

Both the housing and hotel would be funded by an unidentified private partner.

College Park residents believe that the multi-use building will cause their neighborhood to become noisy and polluted with traffic. They advocated moving the structure to another part of campus that isn't near homes.

"Our privacy is going to be impacted," Robertson said. "We have a two-story home, which means three stories of that building are going to be looking in my windows and backyard."

After Monday's meeting, college officials decided to send another copy of the EIR to residents within a mile of the campus, said Vice President of Administrative Services Richard Pagel.

Officials will host a public meeting in OCC's library at 6 p.m. July 15 to continue to gather comments from neighbors.

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