Cal State Long Beach has appealed a Superior Court decision that has stalled plans for faculty housing and a retail center on a 22-acre campus area that is thought to be the site of an ancient Gabrieleno Indian village.
Administrators warned that the university will suffer a devastating blow if it is forbidden to develop the site on the western edge of the campus along Bellflower Boulevard.
They said the affordable housing complexes are needed to help attract professors and other faculty members who are put off by housing prices in Southern California. The proposed retail center is expected to provide sorely needed revenue for the school, which has absorbed $36 million in state budget cuts in the last three years. The retail complex would be limited to “university-related” business, such as bookstores, record shops, a coffeehouse and a copying center.
“We have to find alternate revenues because we cannot expect the state to be there for us anymore,” interim President Karl Anatol said. “We are talking about paying for the basic ability to offer a quality education.”
The university was forced to delay the projects last month after Judge Stephen E. O’Neil ruled that state law prohibits building on land considered culturally significant. He ordered the university to remove a fence that had been erected around a two-acre portion of the parcel, which once was an organic garden. He also ordered the university to remove construction equipment and materials that had been stored in the area.
In a petition filed last week with the state Court of Appeal, the university questioned whether the site is sacred, pointing out that six previous archeological surveys found little evidence to support the contention that an ancient Gabrieleno village had existed there. Attorneys also argued that it is unconstitutional for public land to be used for religious purposes.
Attorneys for descendants of the Gabrieleno tribe have argued that the university’s construction plans will block their access to sacred land.
University officials began preparations to develop the site more than a year ago. Last fall, they gave eviction notices to a group of organic gardeners who had been using a two-acre plot on the site.
In February, gardeners attempting to block their eviction discovered the site is listed as culturally significant on the National Register of Historic Places. They then notified the Native American community of the university’s development plans, and the controversy escalated.
Before the court intervened, the university had lined up developers to obtain financing and build the projects. Under the arrangement, the university would lease the land to the developers. Officials estimate that the university would receive at least $1 million a year from the leases, plus a percentage of the revenues from the housing complex and retail center.
Anatol said the housing project is critical. “We have a high incidence of failure to recruit, and it is because they are seeing the housing costs in Los Angeles,” he said. “In order to compete with other universities for high-caliber faculty, we have to offer something in addition to salaries.”
The apartments and townhomes would be rented for 30% below the market rate, said William Griffith, the university’s vice president for administration and finance.
But attorneys for the Native American community argued that the project is an inappropriate endeavor for the university.
“The university should be in the business of educating people, not in the mini-mall business,” said Carlos Holguin, an attorney representing the Native American Heritage Commission, a state board that had joined a suit to block the development.
He also questioned whether the revenue is as vital as administrators say.
“I find it interesting that they can find the money to commission (archeological) studies and hire lawyers, but when it comes to offering education, they say they are broke,” he said.
Indian leaders have suggested, among other things, that the site be used for a botanical garden with native species, and medicinal and edible plants. A place for prayer and reflection would also be set aside on the land if the university is permanently blocked from development, said Jimi Castillo, a spiritual leader of the Gabrielenos.
University officials said they do not intend to give up sizable portions of the 22 acres.