New concerns were raised this week by several environmental groups and a powerful state agency about the adverse impact of constructing a university campus on Taylor Ranch west of Ventura.
The organizations, in written comments to California State University, all contended that a recent report assessing the impact of a campus on the scenic hillside property seriously underestimated the negative effects of development there.
Friends of the Ventura River, the Ventura County Environmental Coalition, Patagonia Inc. and the California Coastal Commission all charged that the report failed to adequately assess a wide range of issues--from water quality in the nearby river to student population to the potential for additional development on adjacent lands.
"I don't know if anybody could say that the flaws are fatal or not, but there are some very major concerns," said Virginia Johnson, a staff planner for the California Coastal Commission, which could have the final word on the project. "It's really not to be taken lightly. You're dealing with a relatively pristine territory."
No Major Obstacles
Cal State officials, who have said their draft environmental impact report reveals no major obstacles, expressed surprise that such concerns would surface so long after public opinion overwhelmingly pointed to the ranch as the preferred site for a Ventura County campus.
"Any site, wherever it is, will have certain impacts," said Jack Smart, Cal State's vice chancellor for university affairs. "Obviously, we will do our best to reduce them. But ultimately the community is just going to have to balance whether having the university is worth accommodating some of those concerns."
In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, the public and governmental agencies had 45 days to comment on the March 10 draft report. After evaluating their concerns, Cal State planners must then propose methods for minimizing any environmental impacts in a final report that will be brought to the university's Board of Trustees for approval May 17.
For Patagonia, the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company that commissioned a private analysis of the draft report, there are some concerns that cannot be so easily mitigated.
The firm, which opposes a campus on the ranch for environmental reasons, charged Wednesday that the report is based on only 2,000 students initially attending the two-year extension facility, while ignoring the university's plans to possibly expand it into a four-year school with several thousand more students.
"The study, quite simply, is inadequate," said Paul Tebbel, Patagonia's environmental liaison, adding that university officials have "an obligation to provide an environmental assessment of the project as they ultimately expect it to be developed."
The company pointed to a state Supreme Court decision in December that rejected an environmental impact report prepared by UC San Francisco, which planned to move portions of its School of Pharmacy into 100,000 square feet of a 354,000-square-foot office building.
Although the university had also indicated that it hoped to relocate some other pharmacy facilities into the remaining portion of the building in future years, the environmental impact report only assessed the effect of the initial move.
In rejecting the report, the court referred to a previous ruling in which it concluded that "environmental considerations do not become submerged by chopping a large project into many little ones, each with a minimal potential impact on the environment which cumulatively may have disastrous consequences."
Smart, however, said he doubted that the ruling would apply to the proposed Taylor Ranch campus. If the facility requires expansion to handle the 3,000 to 5,000 students expected to attend by the year 2000, Cal State would simply conduct another environmental impact report and seek to lessen any additional adverse effects.
"Clearly, we're concerned about these issues as well," Smart said. "But if their basic concern is having a university at the site at all . . . obviously that's going to be difficult for us to deal with in an environmental impact report."
The draft report, which assesses the potential impact of a classroom facility on a 48-acre parcel of the proposed 465-acre site, does warn that development on the ranch could congest city streets, add to air pollution, generate large amounts of solid waste and possibly disturb ancient Chumash Indian burial grounds.
But both Cal State and Ventura officials have said they expected those issues to be raised and did not think that it would be difficult to avoid most of the anticipated harm.
"I don't think there was too much unearthed that we didn't anticipate," said Mark Stephens, a Ventura staff planner. "There are obviously issues there, but our general feeling is that they're issues that can be addressed."