California State University trustees took a historic first step this week toward creating a Ventura County campus, but officials acknowledged Friday that enormous hurdles must be overcome before the first student yawns during a physics lecture about five years hence.
The trustees chose 320 acres of farmland between Camarillo and Oxnard for the system’s 21st campus on Tuesday, and immediately began arranging meetings with local and state agencies whose cooperation is crucial to the campus.
Cal State trustees on Tuesday said that they expect the county government or cities of Ventura County to support the university and help pay the several million dollars it would cost to bring water and sewer services to the land, which lies in an unincorporated greenbelt north of the Ventura Freeway and east of Santa Clara Avenue.
The county and the cities of Camarillo and Oxnard have pledged to support the university, but they, like the rest of California, are strapped for cash during an economic slowdown, and officials are wary of being tapped for a tab too large for their cities to handle.
“This is a regional issue and should be handled on a regional basis,” said Camarillo Mayor David Smith, asserting that the cost to provide services should be shared throughout the county.
Even after deals are worked out to bring services to the property--and local and state officials are optimistic that they will be--the university must find the money to build a campus, estimated at $15 million to $20 million for the first phase and up to $400 million for a full-service campus.
That could be a difficult task during a recession, officials say. But the need to move ahead with planning a new campus is urgent, said James W. Cleary, president of Cal State Northridge, the parent to Cal State’s present Ventura campus.
“There is no question in my mind that there is a tremendous education need out there,” said Cleary, speaking from the San Fernando Valley campus. “If the campus were to open Monday, within two or three years it would probably reach at least 8,000 or 9,000 students if we had the classes for them.”
Cal State proposes to buy land known as the Duntley/Chaffee property, a parcel chosen after a five-year search and evaluation of 40 sites throughout the county.
If the negotiations are successful, in about five years Cal State plans to begin building a campus to replace the 1,200-student Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge, which serves only upper-division and graduate students. The two-year program would continue for the first several years, with the campus developing over 20 years into a four-year university to serve up to 20,000 students.
An improved economy will be essential for long-term funding, said Frank I. Jewett, Cal State project director for planning.
General-obligation bonds passed by voters have historically funded new Cal State buildings, Jewett said. But last November, a higher-education bond issue failed to pass for the first time.
“There is no question that if higher-education bond issues begin to fail, that we will be in serious problems, not only in Ventura County, but all over the state,” he said. “We will still have new campuses, but they will come on later.”
When the last four-year campus was opened in Bakersfield in 1965 finances were not a problem. The cities figured out how many tax dollars they would need for services and raised taxes to meet the need, Jewett said.
“But Proposition 13 changed all that,” he said, referring to the 1978 state legislation that limited property-tax increases to 2% per year.
The San Marcos campus in San Diego County, Cal State’s 20th, is operating in temporary buildings while permanent ones are under construction. It was established just before the economy turned sour, Jewett said. City officials welcomed the university and pledged to cooperate and extend services.
“If we were starting to look for a site in the San Diego area today, we would hear a lot more about the revenue problems,” he said.
But Jewett said that economic downturns come in cycles. The Ventura County campus can be built if the communities that surround it are committed to it, he said.
“If people want to make it happen, it will happen.”