Carlsbad, San Marcos Jockey for Favor of Panel Seeking Site for Campus

Times Staff Writer

Like two covetous suitors dueling for the hand of a fair maiden, the cities of San Marcos and Carlsbad squared off Wednesday in an effort to woo the proposed North County campus of San Diego State University.

As members of a California State University subcommittee supervising the search for a campus site looked on, officials from the two cities deployed slides, maps, charts, graphs and a healthy dose of hoopla as they made their pitch to land the four-year school.

The presentations, observers agreed, took civic boosterism to new heights. And no wonder. The city chosen to host "SDSU North" stands to gain an enviable economic boost from commercial, industrial and residential development. A bit of prestige might rub off on the newly named college town as well.

"Carlsbad is a dynamic city on the move," boasted Chamber of Commerce President Stephen L'Heureux to the committee. "And a state university . . . will be a perfect complement for this energetic and forward-looking community."

Maybe so. But hey, consider this:

"San Marcos is a progressive city, a young city," Councilman Corky Smith told the committee. "We can give you a wish list of whatever you want to surround the campus. . . . San Marcos is definitely the place to be."

The four trustees seemed alternately bored and titillated by the show. Much of the time they yawned, tugged at their ties and popped Life Savers. But occasionally, they whispered, smirked and chuckled as the civic leaders trumpeted the virtues of their respective hometowns.

In the end, the committee agreed to direct university consultants to examine four proposed sites--two each in San Marcos and Carlsbad--and come back with a recommendation in early May. Members will then decide whether to encourage the full Board of Trustees to purchase a site and begin the long fight to win funding for the branch campus.

A consultants' study released earlier this month recommended construction of a four-year school to accommodate the explosive growth in North County into the next century. The report predicts a population of nearly 1.3 million by the year 2010 in a "North County service area" bounded by Del Mar, Poway, San Clemente, Rancho California and Interstate 15.

Based on those figures, a four-year state campus in North County would have an enrollment of roughly 21,000 students by 2010, the report said.

Despite the impressive figures, some trustees remain gun-shy about the prospect of building new state campuses. The board's vice chairman, George Marcus, for example, cites the failure of branches at Bakersfield, Stanislaus and Dominguez Hills south of Los Angeles to meet enrollment targets as grounds for his skepticism about the North County plan.

Cognizant of such hesitancy, business leaders on Wednesday took the podium to describe to trustees the area's higher education needs. Joe Costa, public affairs manager for Hewlett-Packard Co., told the committee that the competition for qualified, college-trained employees in the area is heating up.

Mike Dunigan, vice president of the Koll Co. Inc., said that the rejection of San Diego County by two powerful high-tech consortiums--Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. in 1983 and the Software Productivity Consortium last year--was in part due to a perceived lack of commitment to education in the state.

"It is critical that we keep that in mind as we consider a proposal for a North County campus," Dunigan said.

Then it was the city folks' turn. Carlsbad went first, with Mayor Mary Casler rattling off a list of factors that she said make her city the obvious choice. Some highlights:

- Industry. While preserving its village-like charm, Carlsbad has established a reputation as a high-tech center. Companies ranging from Hughes Aircraft Co. to World Communications Inc. have located in the city's industrial park, and represent opportunities for student internships and work-study programs.

- Batiquitos Lagoon Educational Park. Sammis Properties of San Diego is developing this unusual project, which combines several graduate schools, a think tank and a conference center. SDSU and the people at the educational park could work together.

- Airport. Palomar Airport is a stone's throw from one of the proposed campus sites, so visiting dignitaries could be easily imported by air.

- Public schools. The Carlsbad Unified School District won one of 16 awards for excellence from the federal Department of Education in 1984. That's a nice marketing plus for attracting faculty.

- Aesthetics. Carlsbad has six miles of beaches, three lagoons and fields of brilliantly colored flowers that bloom every spring.

- History. Carlsbad hasn't ignored its past. The city recently built an interpretive center around the ruins of an old stagecoach stop.

Very impressive. But look what San Marcos has going for it:

- Endorsements. The city councils of Escondido, Poway, Oceanside and Vista have endorsed San Marcos as the best site for a state campus. The Board of Supervisors did the same on Tuesday, and a recent poll showed that 82% of San Marcos residents want the campus built in their town.

- Climate. It's warm in San Marcos; you don't get the "dense fogs that are common along the coast."

- Location. Adjacent to California 78 and roughly halfway between Interstates 5 and 15, San Marcos is in the heart of North County. The site is easily accessible to coastal and inland residents alike.

- Housing. Homes and rental units are cheaper in the San Marcos-Escondido area than they are near the beach. That's an important consideration for the students and staff the school will attract.

- Economics. The owner of one of the sites has offered to consider a donation of some acreage if the university chooses San Marcos. He has also offered to grade the site in preparation for construction. The city, meanwhile, has offered to use redevelopment funds to finance public improvements at the site.

So there it is--inland versus coastal in a battle of interest to residents and business leaders alike. Stay tuned.

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