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Transportation Programs Envisioned for Proposed CSU Campus

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If traffic is the biggest problem facing Ventura County’s budding Cal State campus, transportation planner Charles R. Imbrecht said he has a solution.

At a meeting Tuesday to review the environmental impact report on the conversion of Camarillo State Hospital into a college campus, the general counsel for the CALSTART consortium told a crowd of about 200 that he envisions a range of advanced transportation programs at the new university.

He sees electric vehicles, shuttle buses and a bicycle loan program easing congestion.

And with CALSTART considering shifting a significant part of its operation to the fledgling campus, he said the consortium of advanced transportation technology companies could be in a perfect position to help make it happen.

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“I think far and away the predominant issue in the [environmental study] is traffic and congestion,” Imbrecht said afterward. “We see CALSTART helping Channel Islands create a unique identity as a campus.”

Cal State University officials welcomed the public to the evening meeting for a wide-ranging review of an environmental study on conversion of the now-shuttered psychiatric hospital into a four-year university.

CSU officials are proposing to convert the facility into the new home for the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge, the first step toward creating a free-standing university at the site.

Under that plan, the satellite campus would remain an extension of the Northridge university until it attracts enough students and money to become a full-fledged campus, to be called Cal State Channel Islands.

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Through hundreds of pages of words, maps and diagrams, the inch-thick study highlights dozens of key issues surrounding the conversion effort, ranging from the preservation of historic buildings to the protection of sensitive wildlife habitat.

The study also provides a hard look at larger regional concerns, including the proposed creation of a 16,000-seat amphitheater nearby and the potential for inducing growth and paving over farmland as the project moves forward.

The document was made available for review early last month at libraries throughout the county. The public was invited Tuesday to comment on the study before a final report is published this summer.

While solid community support has been shown for the university, perhaps the most serious questions on the project have centered on the ability of transportation planners to funnel thousands of cars to and from the new campus.

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Planners have determined that several roadways must be expanded and improved to handle a flood of traffic expected to be generated by the new campus, according to the environmental document.

Camarillo resident Matt Lorimer had an even more focused traffic concern. He lives in the nearby Lamplighter Mobile Home Park and said the 200 residents there fear the university would generate so much traffic they won’t be able to pull onto their own street.

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“We’re not going to be able to get out of our homes,” Lorimer told authors of the study, who were jotting down everything he said. “Traffic is going to come from the university, and we want the university at that time to help the residents get a traffic light.”

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Camarillo resident Larry Davis, however, countered that the roads are already filled with college students heading to UC Santa Barbara or Cal State Northridge.

“I think this is the least expensive way to get the university in this county,” he said. “I think there are possibly far less impacts than are being discussed in the EIR.”

Mike Stubblefield, an El Rio resident who reviews air quality issues for a local Sierra Club chapter, said he believes several issues need further examination. They include, he said, creation of bicycle paths to the campus and the possibility of setting high prices on parking permits to discourage driving to school.

“We know what we’re up against cleaning up the air quality in this county,” he said. “While I’m not going to say this is going to derail [that effort], it’s certainly not going to be helpful.”

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Ultimately, the environmental study will serve to bolster the campus master plan, a blueprint for development aimed at guiding creation of a range of money-making ventures being proposed at the site.

On that front, state lawmakers Tuesday pushed the campus a step closer to reality by endorsing a bill aimed at generating the cash needed to transform the state hospital into a college campus.

The state Assembly’s Higher Education Committee approved a bill designed to create a special authority dedicated to managing all financial aspects of the new campus.

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The authority would serve as an economic engine to fuel development and pump out a steady stream of cash to support university projects.

The bill, written by state Sen. Jack O’Connell (D-San Luis Obispo), now heads to the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The state Senate approved the legislation in May.

“A beautiful facility now sits idle and has presented us with a tremendous opportunity to bring a four-year public university to Ventura County immediately rather than the next century,” O’Connell told members of the Assembly committee.

The authority is not needed to launch the inaugural phase of the campus, as lawmakers already have earmarked $16.5 million for the initial conversion of Camarillo State Hospital.

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It is, however, needed to generate the $25 million to $50 million necessary to expand the Cal State Northridge center into the 23rd campus in the Cal State system.

But before plans can advance, the Cal State governing board must certify a final environmental impact report for the project. CSU planners hope to publish that document later this summer, allowing trustees to consider approval of the document in September.

Somis resident John Kerkhoff told CSU officials Tuesday he was against the idea of combining higher education with the proposed development ventures. But he added he’s not sure why they are going through the exercise of collecting public comment.

“You’re going through this report just so you can say you met the requirements,” he said. “It’s already a done deal, in my opinion. I’ll be surprised if it gets turned back.”

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So would Thousand Oaks resident Bruce McCunney, but for a different reason. He said the university is desperately needed and he wants it here as soon as possible.

“I’m supportive of the university going forward with the rebirth of this beautiful facility,” he said. “I would like to see this campus go forward as quickly and as expediently as possible.”


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