Plans to build a full-scale branch campus of San Diego State University in North County received a major boost Tuesday when a key subcommittee of the California State University Board of Trustees accepted a report endorsing the project and authorized a search for a site.
The subcommittee's action came after consultants hired to study the need for a new campus told trustees that construction of a four-year school is vital to accommodate the explosive growth expected to sweep over North County into the next century.
"All of our numbers predict the same thing for the year 2010," consultant Max Tadlock told the five-member Ad-Hoc Committee on Off-Campus Facilities. "You will have a large-scale campus demand and you do not have a way to meet that now."
SDSU President Thomas Day, who attended the meeting, called the committee's action "very encouraging" and said he believes that the university is making "very fine progress" toward the eventual construction of a campus.
"What is most important is that for the first time today I think the trustees really understood in the fullest sense just how extraordinary the growth is in North County," Day said. "That is critical to our case."
Sen. William A. Craven (R-Carlsbad), who has piloted the drive for a North County campus on the legislative front, agreed and called the committee's vote "a crucial step along the long road to realization of our dream."
The committee's action authorizes the university to turn consultants loose on the search for a home for the campus, a process likely to convert North County into a political battlefield as cities looking for an economic boon make their bids for the school.
Next week, officials representing cities interested in hosting the campus will make their pitch at a meeting in North County. In May, the consultants will recommend one or more sites to committee members, who will then decide what sort of proposal to take to the full Board of Trustees.
Assuming the board approves both a site and a formal proposal to build a North County campus--a prospect SDSU officials say is increasingly likely given Tuesday's action--Craven said he is prepared to introduce legislation containing funding for the project. The North County campus would be the 20th branch in the state university system. Proposals for new campuses in Ventura and Contra Costa counties are also afloat.
In his rousing, multimedia presentation to the subcommittee Tuesday, consultant Tadlock characterized North County as a soon-to-be-major metropolitan area being deluged by "young, vigorous, job-seeking adults."
He noted that North County and southern Orange and Riverside counties contain 20 major industrial parks and three regional shopping centers, and said that more than 30,000 residential building permits were issued last year. Roughly 40,000 residents--the population of a small city--are added to the region each year. By the year 2000, an additional 150,000 schoolchildren will live in the area.
The growth is so staggering, said Tadlock, president of Tadlock & Associates of Carmel, that it has even taken experts by surprise. Vista's population, for example, reached 45,000 last year, despite the fact that in 1983, both city officials and San Diego Assn. of Government (Sandag) experts had predicted that it would not reach that level until 2000.
Tadlock said his figures project a population of nearly 1.3 million by the year 2010 in a so-called North County service area--bounded by Del Mar, Poway, San Clemente, Rancho California and Interstate 15.
Based on that population, the consultant said a four-year state campus would have a potential enrollment of roughly 21,000 students by 2010.
"Any way you cut it you're talking about a significant student population that's not going to be served elsewhere because you're already at saturation at (the main SDSU campus on Montezuma Mesa)," Tadlock said.
Despite their initiation of the search for a site, committee members expressed some reservations about Tadlock's population projections and about the viability of a four-year campus. George Marcus, the board's vice chairman, warned that "we should not presume that by reviewing potential sites this campus is a foregone conclusion."
After the meeting, Marcus said he takes "capital commitments" such as those required to build a full-scale campus "very seriously" and is not convinced that the campus would thrive.
"We have a history to remember," said Marcus, referring to state campuses at Bakersfield and Stanislaus that have failed to reach their targeted enrollments. "I'm not sure a new campus is the best answer for that area."
Although consultants conducting the search in the weeks to come are likely to scan all of North CoUnty for a home for "SDSU North," only San Marcos, Carlsbad and Escondido have formally identified sites that they believe are suitable. In their efforts to woo the university, officials from each of the three cities have indicated a willingness to provide financial assistance or other incentives to get the university built on their turf.
Carlsbad officials have offered two sites in the eastern reaches of their city, a 460-acre parcel at the future intersection of Canon Road and College Boulevard and the 580-acre Bressi Ranch property near Palomar Airport. San Marcos, home of the existing center and the most aggressive suitor of the new campus to date, is promoting a 568-acre site that now houses a poultry farm as the optimal location for a new campus.
Escondido officials, meanwhile, surprised all parties to the bidding war last month when they declared their support for the San Marcos site. City councilmen said they believe that site, conveniently located along California 78, has greater potential than any available in Escondido. In addition, Escondido officials hope their endorsement and the creation of a united front of sorts will sway the consultants toward recommending an inland site for the campus.
The drive to build a North County campus began in 1968, when Craven tried to muster support for legislation creating a new state branch. That effort failed. But 10 years later the senator was instrumental in securing a state grant that enabled SDSU's current North County center to open.
Enrollment at that facility, in rented industrial park space, has bounded upward, despite a limited curriculum. Enrollment increased 79% last fall over the previous fall semester. More than 700 students now take upper-division courses there.