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Costco wants to put store on O.C. college land

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to build a Costco at Golden West College in Huntington Beach is coming under fire from students and nearby residents who fear increased traffic and question whether a college should be allowed to turn part of its campus into a big-box store.

Bringing Costco to campus could bring 250 jobs, $1.75 million a year in lease payments for the college and $1.5 million annually in sales tax revenue for the city, said Stanley Smalewitz, Huntington Beach’s economic development director.

The Costco deal is the latest attempt by the Coast Community College District to raise more money. The district’s controversial sale of the PBS station KOCE-TV Channel 50 to a foundation went through this year after a drawn-out legal battle that ended in a settlement with a televangelist firm that said it had offered the highest bid. The district also is trying to sell an island off British Columbia that was donated to a college.

Costco came up with a proposal to lease 14 acres on the corner of Gothard Street and McFadden Avenue, which holds 435 parking spaces, two softball fields and a soccer/football field, Smalewitz said.

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He said the city looked at Golden West as a potential home for Costco because that much open land is a rare find in Huntington Beach. Costco officials declined to comment, citing competitive pressures.

About 100 people came to the Coast Community College District board meeting Monday, asking trustees to quash the Costco plan.

“The thing that bothers me most is the fact that they are taking an education facility and turning it into a business proposition,” Josephine Carrozzo, 80, a retired teacher from Westminster who lives close to the proposed store, said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t have anything against Costco, but there’s so many other places to put it that are not on our campus.”

The Westminster City Council passed a resolution last month opposing Costco’s proposed location because of traffic concerns. Golden West officials said the district board would further examine the proposal at its meeting next month.

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“If we cannot find a way to somehow minimize the impacts, it makes the proposal less attractive,” said college President Wes Bryan. “But at the same time, a reliable, continuing source of income to the institution is very attractive. Anyone who says it isn’t is not being honest.”

Colleges and universities have turned to business partnerships in recent years to transform excess real estate into extra revenue, particularly public colleges that have suffered dwindling state support, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a college trade association.

“Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial,” Hartle said, pointing to campuses leasing spaces to bookstores, restaurants, movie theaters and even computer companies.

Golden West has planned for years to transform the land that Costco wants into a development that could bring extra revenue into the school, Bryan said. The college has looked into turning the area into a golf driving range or a housing complex for faculty and staff members.

The $1.75 million a year from Costco would be used for repair and maintenance of deteriorating buildings, Bryan said. It would be a boon for the school, which has an annual budget of $43 million, he said.

A CVS Pharmacy, which is awaiting final approval from the city, is planned for three acres on the northwest corner of the campus. The store, which is expected to open in a year, will bring in about $230,000 annually, Bryan said.

The college district continues to look for ways to make up for increased costs at a time when state funding hasn’t kept up with inflation and increased maintenance costs, he said. The school also is working with city officials to build housing for students across from the proposed Costco at Gothard Street.

About 40% of Golden West’s students come from outside the district, and more students are looking to live closer to campus, Bryan said. The school helps place students in housing near campus, but Huntington Beach’s rising rents have pushed them to more affordable parts of Orange County, he said. The school’s 200 international students also could benefit from subsidized housing near campus, Bryan said.

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The parking spaces that the Costco would eliminate would be rebuilt next to the student housing on Gothard Street, and a pedestrian bridge would connect the lot to campus.

One softball field would be lost to make way for the Costco, Bryan said, but the other softball field and practice field would be kept intact, he said.

my-thuan.tran@latimes.com


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