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CSUN Makes New Bid to Sell L.A. on Expansion Plan : Education: Campus officials negotiate with the City Council in hopes of starting work on the $200-million, 100-acre University Park project.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Cal State Northridge officials said Wednesday they are trying to negotiate an agreement with Los Angeles city officials over a 100-acre expansion proposal, the subject of a long-running dispute over the city’s authority to control commercial development on state land.

The talks between CSUN and city officials involve details of the proposed University Park project, which would include 360,000 square feet of office space, a 225-room hotel, a 20,000-seat athletic stadium, restaurants and theaters. The project is planned for the northern part of the CSUN campus, north of Lassen Street and south of Devonshire Street, between Lindley and Zelzah avenues.

The continuing negotiations seek to resolve questions raised more than two years ago concerning the city’s power to approve and dictate details of the project. University officials contend that as a state institution, CSUN is exempt from city review.

Nonetheless, Bill K. Chatham, CSUN associate vice president, said Wednesday that school officials are seeking a signed agreement with Los Angeles planning officials and the City Council over the $200-million expansion before beginning construction.

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“We’ve concluded it would be appropriate for us to assure the city that what we are doing is in the best interests of the local region,” Chatham said. “Assurances about things such as traffic, parking, noise and access.”

Under California law, the state does not need permission from local governments to develop public buildings on its own land.

But after CSU trustees approved the expansion project in 1987, the mixed public and private nature of the University Park project raised questions over whether it was covered by the rule. Two years ago the university tried unsuccessfully to secure state legislation specifically exempting the project from city review. The proposal died in an Assembly committee.

Any legal challenge over the question of city control is likely to cause delays and problems for Watt Investment Properties, CSUN’s partner in the venture.

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University officials say they are optimistic that agreement with the city over such issues as traffic controls, sewer hookups, electrical permits and the location of driveways will be reached within a few months so construction can begin in the spring.

The Los Angeles City Council granted permission unanimously Wednesday for CSUN to build a pedestrian bridge across Lassen Street, linking the existing campus with the proposed expansion. The city has undisputed authority over the bridge because it owns the air space above the street.

The University Park project is the largest cooperative venture with a private developer in the history of the 19-campus Cal State system.

Under the plan, CSUN would lease for 75 years portions of the state-owned land to Watt Investment for construction of six four-story office buildings, two restaurants, the hotel and a 20,000-square-foot conference center. The school would also receive a portion of rents charged individual tenants.

The school plans to use the rent money to finance construction of improvements that it could not otherwise afford, CSUN officials said. So far, several hundred student apartments have been built on the site in anticipation of income from completion of University Park.

CSUN has about 31,000 students, 21,000 of them attending full time, school officials said.

The project is considered significant by state university and other public university officials because it could become a model for schools to finance sorely needed campus expansions in an era when it is becoming more difficult to obtain public funds.

“The state’s economy does not allow the number and volume of facilities we need to accommodate our existing students,” Chatham said. “With this project, we can do that at no cost to the state.”

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Watt Investment officials have estimated that the firm would earn as much as $2.4 million a year from development of the CSUN land.


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