In a political rebuff to Cal State University Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors this week pointedly declined to support construction of a new state university at the controversial Taylor Ranch site in Ventura.
The supervisors endorsed establishment of a new four-year Cal State campus in Ventura County but ignored an ultimatum delivered by Reynolds last month, which stated that no Cal State campus will be built in the county except at Taylor Ranch.
Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer, board chairwoman, called the chancellor's ultimatum a threat.
"I'm surprised that anyone in education would make that kind of a shoot-from-the-hip statement," she said. "I'm going to give her a chance to rethink her position."
The vote by the supervisors occurred as the Taylor Ranch site debate heated up dramatically in the wake of the ultimatum by Reynolds, who also asked for a public show of support for her position.
While supporters of the Taylor Ranch site rallied to Cal State's cause, critics launched their own last-minute campaign to have a Cal State campus located elsewhere in the county.
During the supervisors' debate preceding Tuesday's vote, Supervisor John K. Flynn argued unsuccessfully for written support of a university at Taylor Ranch on the condition that no "fatal flaws" emerge in a broadened environmental impact report.
"We are sending the wrong message here," Flynn said. "We risk not getting anything at all."
In a move toward compromise, Supervisor Maggie Erickson added a brief statement to the letter to the CSU trustees, acknowledging the "state's right to choose a site."
Supervisor Susan K. Lacey, however, did not acknowledge Reynolds' Taylor Ranch-or-nothing position. Lacey, who drafted the letter the board will send, said she wants to see the expanded environmental impact report before she decides whether to endorse the site.
"Then we will be able to discuss it with the facts on the table," she said.
In delivering her ultimatum to the county late last month, Reynolds said the state had spent four years searching for a site and had looked at 40 locations. She requested a public show of support for the Taylor Ranch location by Feb. 1.
Without that support, in the form of letters to trustees and public officials as well as proclamations by public bodies, Reynolds said, the state will scrap plans to conduct a full environmental impact report at Taylor Ranch and will take its resources to counties that would welcome the university.
The expanded environmental report became necessary after a Ventura Superior Court judge in November found that an earlier report based on a two-year campus was inadequate.
The Board of Supervisors' action was the strongest sign this week that at least some local officials have decided to dismiss the ultimatum or to view it as an ill-advised ploy to force support.
But Reynolds said she stands firm.
"We have no intention of reconsidering," Reynolds said Tuesday. "We again went through many of the other proposed sites. There were problems because it was agricultural land or it was near an airport or it had multiple owners.
"We've advertised for this twice now and have looked at nearly 40 sites."
CSU Trustee Theodore J. Saenger said Tuesday that the chancellor has the full support of the board.
"She is the chief administrative officer and that is the CSU position," he said.
Neither Saenger nor Reynolds would comment on whether the supervisors' letter constitutes the kind of endorsement they want.
The draft reads:
"The Ventura County Board of Supervisors fully supports the critical need for a public university in Ventura County.
"Recognizing the state's right to choose a site, that any site considered for such a public university be subject, as required by law, to a complete detailed environmental report so that all environmental and economic aspects can be fully considered and discussed;
"That the state not turn its back on Ventura County's education needs by imposing arbitrary deadlines on the decision-making process."
The board's letter was praised by Taylor Ranch opponents and was greeted with some expressions of disappointment from supporters.
"We support the board's endorsement because we strongly support a university in the county, but we strongly oppose one at Taylor Ranch," said Mike Harrelson, a spokesman for Patagonia Inc., whose founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been an outspoken opponent of the proposed Taylor Ranch site.
Bob Gregorchuck, president of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, called the action disappointing.
"But we were glad the board was unanimous in support for a university in the county," he said.
The need for a university is the single point of agreement on both sides of the highly charged issue.