California State University officials on Wednesday announced that they will begin negotiations to put a branch campus on Taylor Ranch, the west Ventura oceanside bluff with a stunning view of the county's shoreline.
The facility, which would serve about 2,500 students and might eventually be home to a four-year university, would replace the cramped office building used by 1,000 third- and fourth-year students on Maple Street in Ventura.
The decision to purchase up to 550 acres of the 30,000-acre ranch was announced by the five-member site selection committee in a press release. The action had not yet been approved by the full Cal State Board of Trustees, but approval was expected Wednesday afternoon.
In selecting Taylor Ranch, Cal State bypassed the other contending site, a 212-acre parcel in Oxnard near the corner of Victoria Avenue and Gonzales Road. Ag Land Services, a Somis-based developer, had said it would donate 132 acres to Cal State and sell another 80 acres at a reduced price.
Ventura city officials, who endorsed the Taylor Ranch site in December, said they were pleased with the decision.
"In reality, before the university selected it, it was selected by the citizens of Ventura," said Everett Millais, Ventura community development director. "The public opinion swung to it very strongly."
Supporters of the Oxnard site contended that it would be cheaper to develop than the hilly Taylor Ranch. It already borders two major roadways, and is closer to sewer and water connections than the Ventura site.
With a more central location in Ventura County, the Oxnard site would also be more convenient for university staff members and students, they argued.
Supporters of the Taylor Ranch, on the other hand, claim that students and faculty members alike would be drawn to it by its more scenic setting. They envision a university center and, ultimately, a university at Taylor Ranch, revitalizing downtown Ventura and the nearby Ventura Avenue neighborhood.
Although Taylor Ranch was given the nod, several hurdles must still be cleared before classes are ever held on the verdant oat field overlooking the Pacific.
Besides getting approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and the California Coastal Commission, Cal State must find a way to purchase the property and build the classroom complex within the $8-million budget allocated by the state Legislature.
Deputy Provost Jack Smart said trustees have been provided with estimates of infrastructure costs and an appraisal of the land value but he declined to disclose those figures.
Ventura city officials have indicated a willingness to help finance some of the necessary improvements, such as sewer lines and road widening, but have not committed themselves to a specific sum.
Disagreement over how to fund such infrastructure costs derailed Cal State's previous bid to put the facility on 110 acres of agricultural land owned by the Lusk Co. near the Ventura Harbor. After a year of unsuccessful negotiations, Cal State officials announced last Oct. 20 that they had reopened their search for a site.
The university system first began planning to put a branch campus in Ventura County more than two years ago, after conducting a statewide survey that predicted substantial growth for the region.
While the Taylor Ranch site was not offered for sale at the time, popular support kept it in the public eye. Even before negotiations over the Harbor Boulevard site collapsed, Ventura city officials had agreed to pay for a $25,000 engineering study of the ranch to examine its feasibility as an alternate location.
Once the search for a new site was reopened last fall, Cal State officials indicated that Taylor Ranch might be a favorite. At a Dec. 2 meeting, the university narrowed its choices to the ranch, the Ag Land site and a parcel at Ormond Beach, which had initially been endorsed by the Oxnard City Council.
Shortly afterward, Oxnard officials reversed themselves and threw their support behind the Ag Land property, effectively eliminating the Ormond Beach site from the running.
Cal State was to decide between Taylor Ranch and the Ag Land property at a Jan. 12 meeting, but in an eleventh-hour move to enhance their prospects, Oxnard officials asked for a two-month delay during which they could conduct an engineering study similar to one Ventura officials had performed on the ranch a month before.
Although Cal State's agreement to stall the already delayed process seemed to enhance Oxnard's prospects, a LAFCO report last month favoring Taylor Ranch appeared to be a setback. LAFCO officials, who would have to approve annexation of either site, said construction at Taylor Ranch would have the least impact on agricultural land, which the county agency is committed to preserving.
In one final twist last week, the Oxnard City Council stated that its support for the Ag Land site will depend on a commitment from Cal State that a four-year university will eventually be built.
But Cal State officials said that, without funding from the Legislature, they do not have the authority to make such a promise.
Funds for the branch university center were included in the 1987-88 state budget and are available only until June 30, 1990.