California State University officials this week lost a court battle over plans for their proposed Ventura campus, and they braced for strife with a new slow-growth contingent on the Ventura City Council.
A Ventura judge Monday ordered the university to redo the lengthy environmental impact report for its proposed university center at Taylor Ranch, delaying the project for at least six months.
Meanwhile, a top Cal State official said last week's election of a slow-growth slate of candidates to Ventura's City Council could stymie the university's plans here.
"A major question in light of the recent election is whether the community is interested in a facility of any variety," said Jack Smart, Cal State's vice chancellor for university affairs. "We'd want to discuss this with interested community people."
During the campaign, three of the four council members elected last week expressed serious environmental concerns about Cal State's plans.
Smart's remarks, made during an interview with The Times on Tuesday, were the first public indications of any possible reluctance by Cal State to pursue its plans for a new Ventura facility.
But the university's more immediate problem stemmed from a decision Monday by Superior Court Judge Joseph Hadden. In a suit brought by Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, an environmental group that wants to block the Cal State development, Hadden ruled that the university's environmental impact report for the Taylor Ranch project is flawed and violates the California Environmental Quality Act.
Hadden found that Cal State's document should have gauged the environmental consequences of building and operating a full four-year university. Instead, it examined only the impact of a 2,000-student extension center for juniors and seniors--a facility that university officials have described as a possible step toward a four-year campus.
Hadden ordered the document rewritten--a process that Smart said would require at least six months. He said Cal State trustees would confer before the university begins its new report.
Attorneys for the university argued in court that development of a four-year campus in Ventura was "sheer speculation."
"How valuable would it be to do an EIR for a four-year campus that might not ever come to fruition?" asked Cal State attorney William G. Knight.
Hadden, however, sided with Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, which contended that the full campus "is not only reasonably foreseeable, but actively anticipated by CSU."
The expanded report might persuade university trustees to look elsewhere for a Ventura County campus site, suggested an attorney for the environmental group.
"I don't think the university trustees had a clear idea of some of the problems here," said Philip A. Seymour, of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center. "They may very well conclude they've spent a lot of taxpayer dollars and gotten themselves into a position they want to get out of."
Hadden based his decision on a California Supreme Court case involving a proposed expansion of the University of California's School of Pharmacy. In that 1988 case, the court ruled that UC San Francisco erred by focusing only on the expansion's first phase in its report and ignoring the school's likely additional expansions.
"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," the Supreme Court concluded, quoting a previous ruling.
Cal State trustees have been negotiating with Santa Barbara heiress Cynthia Wood and her mother, Aileen B. Claeyssens, for a 464-acre piece of Taylor Ranch, a hillside spread commanding a view of Ventura and the ocean. The trustees approved the environmental impact report on the site in May.
However, environmental groups have vigorously criticized their choice.
Patagonia Inc., the Ventura-based outdoor clothing and gear company, commissioned a private study of the Cal State report and accused trustees of "dealing in bad faith" by not considering a four-year university in their report.
In their suit, Citizens to Preserve the Ojai took the trustees to task on a number of fronts. The suit accused the university of failing to adequately address potential oil development at Taylor Ranch, preservation of possible Chumash relics on the site, seismic hazards there and the lack of water for a full four-year campus.
CITIZENS COMMITTEE--Cal State forms a steering panel to guide its academic growth.J3