San Marcos Reportedly Has Edge as SDSU Branch Site

Times Staff Writer

Consultants evaluating the merits of four possible sites for a San Diego State University campus in North County are billing a former chicken ranch in San Marcos as the most suitable home for the school, sources said Wednesday.

Land once occupied by Prohoroff Poultry Farms would be easier and less costly to develop than the other sites under consideration, the sources said. The property offers easy access because of its location alongside California 78, North County’s major east-west artery.

In addition, the San Marcos site is large enough for future expansion--nearly 1,000 acres counting an available parcel to the south. The other leading contender, a 600-acre site in eastern Carlsbad, is considered less attractive because of its proximity to Palomar Airport.


“It looks like things are stacking up quite heavily in favor of the Prohoroff site,” said one official close to the site-selection process who asked not to be identified. “The others are certainly still in the running, and ultimately it’s the Board of Trustees’ decision. But on balance, the San Marcos property seems to have more advantages.”

The consulting firm, PRC Engineering of San Diego, did not return a reporter’s telephone calls Wednesday. The firm is scheduled to present its report and a site recommendation to a committee of the California State University Board of Trustees on Tuesday, according to Jack Smart, deputy provost of the 19-campus university system.

Later that day, the Ad Hoc Committee on Off-Campus Facilities is expected to make its recommendation to the full board. The meeting will be held in Long Beach.

Even if trustees endorse the proposal for a branch campus and select a site, the project must be approved by the California Postsecondary Education Commission and the state Legislature. Sen. William Craven (R-Oceanside), a longtime booster of a northern SDSU branch, is prepared to introduce legislation providing funds for construction of the campus if the trustees give it their blessing next week.

For six weeks, consultants hired by the university have been studying four parcels identified as promising sites for the branch campus. Two sites--the Prohoroff Farms property near Twin Oaks Valley Road and a relatively isolated 2,100-acre parcel near Questhaven Road--are in San Marcos, home of SDSU’s North County satellite center.

The other two--the 600-acre site near Palomar Airport known as the Bressi Ranch and a 460-acre parcel on an unfinished stretch of College Boulevard--are in Carlsbad. The Bressi Ranch and Prohoroff Farms sites have been viewed as the top contenders because of their size and location and their owners’ offers of favorable terms to the university.

According to the sources, the weight of the consultants’ extensive research supports the chicken farm site. While the Bressi Ranch is a sloping parcel with numerous finger canyons on its southern boundary, the Prohoroff Farms property is relatively flat and therefore easier to develop.

“The feeling is that we’d be spending quite a few more dollars to develop the Bressi Ranch site because it has rolling hills and gullies that might have to be filled in,” said another official who requested anonymity. “Also, the Prohoroff Farms site has more developable acres, so we’d have more to work with.”

Perhaps more importantly, the consultants say the location of the Bressi Ranch--a stone’s throw from the runway at the southeast corner of Palomar Airport Road and El Camino Real--could create some problems.

In addition to the noise generated by the airport, the consultants suggested that safety concerns and various restrictions imposed on developments near airports are drawbacks of the Carlsbad site.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration imposes height restrictions on buildings that are near the approach and departure flight paths and within 10,000 feet of airports. The edge of the Bressi Ranch site is roughly 2,500 feet from Palomar Airport.

As for appropriate land use around an airport, local officials--from Carlsbad, in this case--are required to submit development proposals to the San Diego Assn. of Governments (Sandag) for evaluation. Sandag has developed a land-use plan for Palomar Airport and is charged with determining whether projects within a four-mile radius of the field are compatible.

While there has been substantial development near the busy airport, almost all of it has been to the north and south, clear of the flight path. Most of Bressi Ranch is slightly south of the flight path, but a 20- to 30-acre portion of the site is considered vulnerable to accidents and noise, said Jack Koerper, special projects director for Sandag.

“There is a corner of that property that is of some concern in terms of noise and accident potential,” Koerper said. “Whether there is a conflict depends on how they organize the facility. We wouldn’t want to see classrooms there, but parking lots, landscaping or even some maintenance buildings might be compatible.”

The fight to build a North County SDSU branch began in 1968 when Craven pushed unsuccessfully for legislation creating a new campus. A decade later, he helped secure a small state grant that enabled the existing satellite, which is in rented space in an industrial park, to open.

Enrollment at that center has increased dramatically in recent years. And officials on the main campus on College Avenue note that theirs is the most overcrowded campus in the system. More than 1,000 students seeking enrollment will be turned away this year, officials said.

A consultants’ report released in March predicted explosive population growth for North County into the next century and recommended construction of a four-year campus to accommodate the new arrivals. The report predicts a branch campus could have an enrollment of 21,000 students by the year 2010.

Proposals for new campuses in Contra Costa and Ventura counties are also in the works.