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Taking Soka Land Would Be Bad for the Public

June 27, 1993

* Soka University applauds the public acquisition of Palo Comado Canyon but profoundly disagrees with the assumption in your June 13 editorial that the public acquisition of our campus would be "good news." The seizure of our campus would be terrible news for the public.

The university's expansion dedicates 500 out of 580 acres as permanent natural open space--at no cost to the taxpayers. It preserves 99% of the oaks found on campus, does not impact endangered species and maintains the integrity of internal wildlife corridors. The overwhelming majority of natural resources on this campus will be forever protected.

The university's project, moreover, will pump more than $300 million into the Los Angeles County economy. Seven hundred permanent jobs will be created, including 350 faculty positions. The university anticipates that more than $40 million in payroll and purchasing impact will be added to the local economy each year.

Public acquisition of our campus, on the other hand, would create a significant burden for taxpayers. The $19 million offered to the university by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for 248 acres of its campus is only part of the picture. The university would certainly be entitled to seek damages for the rest of its campus, which would add tens of millions of dollars in acquisition fees. We believe that public agencies should not ask taxpayers to spend this much money to acquire what turns out to be just 80 acres, since 500 undisturbed acres will already be dedicated as open space.

The university is contributing $700,000 per year to Los Angeles County in property taxes and has proposed to establish a tax assessment district so that the institution pays for its future service needs such as police, fire, flood control etc. Public acquisition of the site would remove the property from the tax rolls and cause the taxpayers to pay for the services that a major public park headquarters and visitors center would necessitate.

Lastly, The Times must be keenly aware of the increased need for colleges--particularly those that plan to focus on Pacific Rim studies. University of California officials, upon delaying the proposed campus in the San Joaquin Valley, bemoaned the fact that 63,000 more UC students are expected by the year 2005. A study by the Claremont Colleges anticipates 700,000 more college students in the Western states by that time. Cal State Northridge is already bursting at the seams. Soka University is proposing a relatively small school, but at least it will meet some of this demand.

The National Park Service was offered this property in 1978 and again from 1984 to 1986, but it never made a formal purchase offer and thus didn't acquire it when it could have. Soka University now holds tightly to its campus, not only because it expects to prevail but because it is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is on the right side of this debate.

JEFF OURVAN

Calabasas

Ourvan is director of community relations for Soka University.

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