Talk about a rude welcome. Students arriving next month at Ventura County's emerging Cal State University will be hit with the highest parking fees in the state college system as part of an effort to reduce traffic and pollution around the Camarillo campus.
Parking permits for about 800 spaces closest to the Channel Islands campus will cost $25 a month, $7 more than the maximum charged by any of the 22 other campuses in the state university system. Permits for 200 more spaces about a quarter mile from campus will sell for $12 a month.
The high-priced permits are intended to encourage students and faculty to use a free shuttle bus service that will run from the university to park-and-ride lots at the Metrolink station in Camarillo and the Centerpoint Mall in Oxnard.
The parking program also ties into a larger campaign to turn the university into an environmentally friendly "green campus," reliant on low-polluting technologies and served by a network of fuel-efficient transportation systems.
"It's hard to get people out of their cars, so alternative transportation has to be reasonably attractive," said George Dutra, chief planner for the university under development at the former Camarillo State Hospital complex. "This is what we said we wanted to do to reduce traffic and air quality impacts, and this is what I think the community supports."
University officials have long known they would need to address environmental concerns at the campus, which is set to open Aug. 30 as the new home for the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge. The satellite center is scheduled to evolve in two years into the autonomous Cal State Channel Islands.
Traffic congestion and air pollution were among the chief concerns highlighted in an environmental impact report prepared last year for the campus.
To solve anticipated problems, university planners began looking for energy-efficient ways to deliver students and faculty to and from campus.
Earlier this year, the Ventura County Transportation Commission allocated nearly $13 million in federal money to the university for a range of transportation programs. The funding included $1.5 million to operate the university's shuttle bus service for three years and $1.1 million to buy four natural-gas buses for the program.
Though the new buses won't be available for a few years, the shuttle service will get rolling the first day of classes, said Maureen Hooper Lopez, director of transit programs for the Transportation Commission.
That service will run six days a week. In addition, Hooper Lopez said, several other bus lines will change routes to connect with the shuttles. As added incentive, students who use the shuttle will receive passes to ride the bus anywhere in the county.
"The university has been very devoted to making the shuttle service as attractive as possible," Hooper Lopez said. "They are committed to being a green campus and making access to the campus as easy as possible."
University officials and transportation planners know they face an uphill battle. Californians love their cars. And nowhere is that more evident than at some commuter-friendly Cal State University campuses, where up to 80% of students commute to school.
Officials project that as many as 400 of the 1,800 students expected to attend the new campus this fall will use the bus service. Most riders are expected to catch the bus at the Metrolink station in Camarillo, where shuttles will run every 15 minutes during the peak hours of 3 to 10:30 p.m.
Incoming students will be sent letters this month detailing their parking options, with an emphasis on the merits of the shuttle service, said Steve Lefevre, head of CSUN's Ventura campus.
"I think it's a pretty good plan," Lefevre said. "We hope students will be willing to try out the shuttle system and that it can work for them."
Money generated by parking fees will be used to run the shuttle service when the federal grant runs out in three years. Those fees are expected to generate $571,000 in fiscal year 2001-02, which would easily offset the $400,000 cost of operating the shuttle service that year.
Any additional income will go toward a range of other transportation programs at the new university, including creation of a tram system at the campus and maintenance of an electric bicycle program.
Christina Martinez, president last year of the Associated Students group at CSUN's Ventura campus, said she believes students would be willing to use the shuttle service, especially because it's free and they haven't had to pay parking fees at the off-campus center.
"There's going to be some flak; some students are going to complain," she said. "But I think it's something we need to have a new attitude on. It's a beautiful campus, and I think everyone will want to keep it that way."
About This Series
With the first phase of Ventura County's public university set to open next month, Cal State University officials are developing transportation programs to reduce traffic and pollution around the Camarillo campus. "Birth of a University: Countdown to a Cal State campus" is an occasional series chronicling the creation of the Channel Islands campus at the former Camarillo State Hospital complex. This installment focuses on the university's parking program, which will charge the highest fees of any campus in the state college system.