In their search for partners to help convert Camarillo State Hospital into a university campus, Cal State officials have aroused the interest of the biggest and most prestigious public university in Southern California: UCLA.
UCLA and Cal State leaders have been kicking around ideas for months, ranging from setting up agricultural or biotechnical research stations to jointly offering a doctorate degree in education and joining together to open a management training center for corporate executives.
"All of these things sound plausible and positive," said UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor Charles F. Kennel, who led a delegation touring the all-but-shuttered hospital that Cal State officials want to turn into their 23rd campus.
UCLA, the largest of the University of California's nine campuses with 35,000 students, is bulging at its seams. And the hospital's vacant buildings spread across 720 acres of rolling hills are very attractive, Kennel said.
The possibility of joint ventures at the Camarillo site first surfaced in discussions among higher-education leaders championing greater cooperation between California's two public university systems.
Although Cal State and UC officials have generally operated in separate orbits, they have come together in recent years to offer more than a dozen joint doctoral programs at various campuses.
But the kinds of joint projects being bandied about for Camarillo would be unprecedented, Kennel said. "We are in a new period of collaboration, and we should take advantage of it."
Barry Munitz, chancellor of the 22-campus California State University system, cautioned that proposals for Camarillo are "at a very preliminary stage of exploration."
"My dream for this one is a state-of-the-art health care facility," Munitz said. "UCLA has as good as it gets in medicine, but it is locked in a limited physical site and it is looking to reach out. We need partners."
Munitz said he views any participation by UCLA as a big boost in Cal State's plans to turn the hospital into a university campus.
"We are absolutely convinced it is a better deal than to build a campus from scratch on those 260 acres we own, as long as we can make it work financially," Munitz said. "I remain terribly optimistic. . . . I'm at the stage that they are going to have to prove to me that it can't work."
Cal State officials have been working for more than three decades on opening a campus in Ventura County. They had planned to construct a campus on a 260-acre lemon orchard near Camarillo until Gov. Pete Wilson decided to close Camarillo State Hospital and his task force recommended converting the hospital into a university campus.
But state money for higher education remains tight and Cal State officials have been trying to cobble together a package of development deals and joint ventures to justify taking over the hospital grounds--a much bigger facility than it needs for a fledgling campus.
As a bill wends its way through the Legislature to transfer the property's title to Cal State, university officials have been exploring options to cover the $40-million to $45-million cost of renovating the aging hospital buildings, plus the ongoing upkeep and utility bills.
Income-generating proposals vary greatly, from leasing unused buildings to high-tech firms or education-related enterprises to developing a retirement community with skilled-nursing care.
Cal State officials hope to remain as close to their academic mission as they can.
So they are most enthusiastic about the idea of opening a magnet school for kindergarten through eighth grade students in a joint venture with the Ventura County superintendent of schools and the Pleasant Valley School District.
J. Handel Evans, president of the yet-to-be opened Cal State University Channel Islands, suggested that innovative research from UCLA's Graduate School of Education could play a key role in the "demonstration" school's development.
Evans and his staff want to attract UCLA research projects in biotechnology to the campus, hoping it could supply the yeast for a biotech corridor to spring up between Camarillo and biotechnology giant Amgen in Thousand Oaks.
Moreover, they see any connection to UCLA as a positive step.
"It would give us instant credibility by joining forces with UCLA," Evans said. "We wouldn't have to go through the first 20 years trying to prove who we are."
UCLA has had a long-standing relationship with Camarillo State Hospital--ties that were severed as mental health officials began to shut down the 60-year-old psychiatric hospital. For decades, the UCLA Department of Psychiatry operated a world-renowned research institute that helped push the treatment of mental illness from the dark ages of asylums and lobotomies into an era of wonder drugs for schizophrenia and other disorders.
But Cal State officials have shown no interest in resurrecting any programs in the treatment of mentally ill or developmentally disabled patients on hospital grounds.