Cal State May Delay Choice of Academic Center Site

Times Staff Writer

California State University officials said Wednesday that they will probably honor a request by Oxnard city officials to defer for two months their decision on where to put an off-campus center in Ventura County. They were to have decided on a site at a meeting next week.

In the meantime, Oxnard officials hope to use the delay to launch an engineering study of the 100-acre site at Gonzales Road and Victoria Avenue that has been offered by Ag Land Services and endorsed by the City Council for the project.

"We are anxious to move as quickly as possible," said Jack Smart, Cal State deputy provost. "But I think the trustees would be willing" to delay the decision. "The proposal itself is considerably more attractive than it was initially," he said, "and I think they would want to know as much about it as possible."

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Cal State, Oxnard officials said they hoped the study would provide detailed technical information about the site similar to the analysis that Ventura city officials commissioned for the proposed Taylor Ranch parcel.

"Given the delays which CSU has already experienced, we appreciate your desire to identify a site for the university center at the earliest possible time," said the letter, signed by Mayor Nao Takasugi and Ag Land Vice President Dave O. White.

"However, given the complexities of a major site-selection decision of this kind, we strongly feel that providing additional time to complete the study would ultimately serve in the best interest of both the university and Ventura County."

Ventura officials, who endorsed the Taylor Ranch site last month, were undaunted by the news.

"We're not in a neck-to-neck competition," Ventura Assistant City Manager Lauraine Brekke said. "If they feel giving Oxnard more time to get a better picture of what the site has or doesn't have to offer, all the more power to them."

The Ag Land proposal, which originally had been derided by some Oxnard City Council members, was given new life two weeks ago when the council reversed itself and endorsed the parcel as the proposed home for 2,000 to 3,000 third- and fourth-year college students.

The Somis-based company has said it will donate the land for the project in return for rezoning and other concessions from Oxnard officials that would enable construction of a 180-acre residential development on neighboring property that the firm also owns.

As part of the deal, Ag Land would compensate for the increased population by helping pay for improvements to the heavily congested Victoria Avenue link with the Ventura Freeway in Ventura. Ag Land has also offered to pay for the engineering study of the site.

"We recognize that Taylor Ranch, being on a bluff that overlooks the ocean, has an aesthetic appeal," said Ken Hampian, assistant to the Oxnard city manager. "We think there are, however, other very significant considerations . . . that need to be evaluated before a final decision can be made."

The study of Taylor Ranch, which cost the City of Ventura $25,000, showed that "no fatal flaws" would impede development of the ranch but that the site suffered from significant infrastructure and access constraints.

"We think this is the only way that the trustees can compare apples to apples in making a final decision," Hampian said.

Cal State first began looking for an off-campus university center in Ventura County more than two years ago, ultimately selecting a 330-acre parcel owned by the Lusk Co. near the Ventura Harbor.

After a year of unsuccessful negotiations, however, Cal State on Oct. 20 reopened the search. In a Dec. 2 meeting, Cal State officials narrowed their choices to three locations: Taylor Ranch, the Ag Land site and a parcel at Ormond Beach that the Oxnard City Council had first endorsed before throwing its support behind the Ag Land site.

Cal State's five-member site-selection committee had been scheduled to make a final decision in a closed-session meeting beginning on Jan. 12.

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