CAMARILLO — Trying to become the first "green campus" in the Cal State community, university planners have launched an ambitious proposal to create nature preserves, swaths of open space and a network of advanced transportation systems at Ventura County's budding four-year college.
Under the environmentally friendly plan, a fleet of electric buses or even light-rail trains would shuttle students to and from the university proposed for the shuttered Camarillo State Hospital complex.
Once there, students would be able to hop electric bicycles or fuel-efficient trams to make their way across a sprawling 630-acre campus crisscrossed by wildlife corridors and conservation zones.
While the proposal is in its infancy, it received a significant boost Friday when the Los Angeles-based Environment Now foundation announced it would funnel between $50,000 and $100,000 to the CALSTART consortium to study ways of meeting the university's transportation goals.
"I am unaware of this kind of thing happening anywhere else on the globe," said CALSTART President Mike Gage, whose transportation technology consortium has joined CSU planners and the Ventura County Transportation Commission in spearheading the effort.
"To the best of my knowledge, while some areas have experimented with an electric vehicle or two, no campus has made the commitment to literally becoming a green campus, to becoming a living laboratory to how to do things differently and, I might say, better," Gage said.
University planners hope to have demonstration vehicles cruising the fledgling Camarillo campus in coming weeks and expect to pitch the idea to the Cal State governing board at a meeting next month.
It is perhaps the first time in the state, and perhaps the nation, that a university has attempted to go so far to address concerns about wildlife preservation, air quality and traffic congestion, officials say.
But Cal State boosters say the Channel Islands campus provides the perfect opportunity to apply such innovative approaches.
The planned university, after all, is being created like none other before: forced to generate its own source of money to transform the aging Camarillo mental hospital into a modern-day college campus, the 23rd in the Cal State University system.
In that way, university boosters say, the "green campus" proposal is merely an extension of some of the new ideas that could be put into play as the university evolves over the next decade.
"I think it's a noble idea," said Maureen Hooper Lopez, director of transit programs for the Ventura County Transportation Commission. "It's a beautiful campus, and I think it lends itself to having that kind of [environmentally friendly] theme."
The CSU's effort is not completely altruistic.
In fact, planners acknowledge that air pollution, traffic congestion and land-use matters are among the chief concerns highlighted in an environmental impact report prepared for the transformation effort.
Moreover, local environmentalists have alerted Cal State officials that they intend to keep close watch on those issues as the university develops.
By the fall of 1999, the old mental hospital is expected to be transformed into the new home for the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge.
Planners View Campus as Biological Preserve
Under that plan, the satellite center will remain an extension of the Northridge college until it attracts enough money and students to stand as its own full-fledged university.
"I don't believe it entirely, but I want to believe it," said Camarillo resident Mike Stubblefield, who reviews air quality issues for a local Sierra Club chapter.
"I'm not aware that any of this stuff has been tried anywhere else, and the Cal State University system doesn't exactly have a track record of having introduced any of these ideas," he said. "But I think these are ideas whose time have come, and I would suggest there is going to be pressure from the environmental community to make sure they happen."
Cal State officials said the green campus proposal grew out of the recognition that the developing university is in an isolated area surrounded by agriculture and thousands of acres of native scrubland, home to deer and other wildlife.
Prodded by environmental groups, university planners began exploring the idea of making the entire campus a biological preserve, creating conservation zones and wildlife corridors that would remain in pristine condition and be off-limits to the public.
Those areas could also serve to boost the university's evolving curriculum, officials said, providing students of biology or wildlife management a living laboratory from which to learn.