Concerned that plans for an expanded California State University branch in Ventura might collapse, Ventura city officials stepped in last week and said they will consider aiding Cal State's stalled efforts to secure a site on Harbor Boulevard.
Neither the city nor Cal State would discuss that assistance, but both expressed optimism that it could provide the boost needed to seal a deal between the university system and the Lusk Co., owners of about 330 acres of agricultural land near Ventura Harbor.
At the same time, city officials commissioned a $25,000 engineering study of Taylor Ranch in West Ventura to examine its feasibility as an alternate location.
The ranch, which was not proposed last year when Cal State began its search for a site, is being considered because of public interest, city officials said.
"It's the city trying to show its interest and facilitate the university center being in Ventura," Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Harison, acting as city manager earlier this week, said of the two steps. "I think things were just short of falling apart, and the city kind of stepped in and said we'll do this."
The city's involvement coincided with a Friday deadline set by Cal State for reaching an agreement with Lusk over the purchase of about 110 acres of the Harbor Boulevard property.
Cal State officials said that Lusk met the deadline by submitting a revised proposal, but added that all three parties would have to discuss the plan before its feasibility can be determined. A Cal State spokesman declined to disclose the substance of the revision.
"It's a positive step," said Jack Smart, deputy provost for Cal State. "I think the total series of events is an indication of some urgency to try to bring things together as quickly as possible."
Lusk officials, who hope to build a residential and commercial development on their remaining 220 acres, also expressed optimism at the city 's willingness to be involved.
"Anything that shows further interest is a positive sign," said Carl Vogel, division vice president for Lusk. "If the city's saying, 'Hey, we want the university, can we do something to assist?' Why, that's fine." Cal State officials began seeking a permanent site in Ventura County for an expanded satellite campus about two years ago, after a statewide study they commissioned projected substantial growth for the region.
The existing university center, which is in a Ventura office building, offers upper-division classes to about 1,000 Ventura County students registered at California State University, Northridge and at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The new campus would serve 2,000 to 3,000 students at first, and eventually might be expanded into a free-standing, four-year university, Smart said.
Cal State advertised its interest in finding a county site, and, after narrowing the proposals to five, selected the Lusk property on Harbor Boulevard.
Since then, Cal State and Lusk have been tied up in negotiations, which have been mired in concerns over who should pay for related costs such as freeway improvements and utility lines, Smart said.
In an effort to stimulate a deal, the Cal State board of trustees last month set the Friday deadline.
"We determined we really needed to see more movement and a clearer picture of whether or not we could really make this project work," Smart said. "There was the concern that, if we didn't have something that was likely to work out, we had better take some steps right away."