Despite the countywide debate over building a Cal State campus at Taylor Ranch, officials say the ultimate veto power remains with the Ventura City Council.
And a key vote in any council showdown could come from a man who admits that he is "really torn" between two seemingly irreconcilable positions.
On the one hand, Ventura City Councilman Donald Villeneuve is a college professor who has devoted much of his life to higher education.
But he also is one of the elder statesmen of the slow-growth movement that has taken over Ventura city politics in the last three years.
Some of Villeneuve's closest political allies forecast a scenario in which the soft-spoken instructor's vote could decide whether the college is built.
No matter which way he votes, they say, he is almost certain to make some people unhappy.
Villeneuve, a Ventura College instructor of environmental science and anatomy, is not the only councilman who could decide the Taylor Ranch issue. Todd Collart, who was elected last year on a slow-growth platform, is another potential swing vote.
When the time comes to vote on whether the city should annex the Taylor Ranch site, a move state officials say is necessary for the university to be built, Villeneuve made it clear this week that his decision will be an anguished one.
"As a lifelong educator, I find myself really torn," he said. "I'm really in favor of a university. I just wish they would choose another site."
Villeneuve voted once before in favor of the university. He voted with the council majority last June to designate Taylor Ranch as a potential university site. He voted for the designation, he said this week, to move studies forward.
Villeneuve's vote came despite his slow-growth campaign platform in 1987. At the time, the council voted 7 to 0 in favor of the university site. Any vote against Taylor Ranch would have been an empty gesture.
But the November election of Collart and two other slow-growth council members, Cathy Bean and Gary Tuttle, dramatically changed political realities in Ventura--including the possible future of Taylor Ranch.
Bean and Tuttle are committed publicly to oppose the Taylor Ranch site. That means that if they are joined by Villeneuve and Collart, there could be a new council majority opposed to the site.
Although he says he has not yet made up his mind, Villeneuve has frequently noted that a university will bring a larger population and demands for expensive roads and water to Ventura.
"Anyone who doubts the growth-inducing aspects of a university has got to live in a jug," Villeneuve said this week.
Still, he does not oppose the university, he said. Rather, he is "cautious."
He and his wife and two daughters are all graduates of public universities, Villeneuve said. And he has daily contact with junior college students who must decide whether to continue their educations away from home or drop the goal after two years of college.
He is trying to balance that set of facts against his environmental philosophies, Villeneuve said.
"It's a real moral dilemma," he said.
The city's position on the Taylor Ranch question is crucial to the fate of the proposed campus because Cal State officials believe they need the city for necessary services.
"If the city made it clear that they would not annex the property and not provide services, certainly that would be enough" to kill the project, said Jack Smart, Cal State vice chancellor. "That's why the criterion of public support is so important. Without it, it is impossible to develop a good campus."
If the current political stances hold true after the results of an expanded environmental impact document are released, the new and yet untested council could divide 4 to 3 on the issue, some council members predict privately.
Mayor Richard Francis and Councilmen James Monahan and John McWherter have expressed support for the campus, while Bean and Tuttle are leading a write-in postcard campaign against it.
That leaves Villeneuve and Collart, a senior planner for Ventura County.
But Collart's decision represents less of a personal predicament. Like Villeneuve, he wants to see a full environmental impact report before making a decision. But as a professional planner, he approaches the university proposal as he would any other project plan.
"If you take off the university label, it should be looked at just like any other large project," Collart said. "It's a use, and it has impacts and if they can be mitigated, it will probably get approved."
CSU Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds told Ventura County last month that the state would not consider sites other than the Taylor Ranch, a bluff just west of the Ventura River and Ventura city limits. She said she would not proceed with plans for the university without community support.
Reynolds said the state will decide in the next few weeks whether to go forward with an environmental impact study that was ordered by a Ventura County Superior Court judge.