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Pierce Panel Rejects Land Proposals

Development: All five plans submitted for college's agricultural area fail. Three were vetoed because they deferred rental payments for years.

November 25, 1998|SUE FOX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WOODLAND HILLS — Within a week of receiving five proposals to develop 240 acres of farmland at Pierce College, the school's verdict came in.

Thumbs down on all.

A college committee appointed to review the proposals recommended that the Pierce College Council reject them outright and begin the process anew. The council agreed and stipulated that next time around, the surrounding community be much more included in the process to determine the fate of the land.

The council's recommendation, which sets a May 1 deadline for submitting new proposals, will be sent to the Los Angeles Community College District for further action.

Of the first proposals, two were rejected immediately because they did not include required $250,000 deposits. The deposits were to be returned if the proposals were not accepted.

The panel rejected the other three because they all postponed paying rent for the land until developments could be built, said Jim Rikel, a life science professor and committee member.

"We estimated that it would be four years before the college would see any revenue," Rikel said. "We find that our fiscal situation requires immediate remedy."

Jerry Katell, a developer who with a partner submitted a plan to build a 300-room hotel, conference center, golf course and research center on the land, said he thought the college's expectation of immediate income was unrealistic. Because parts of his proposed development would have required zoning changes, he said, he could not begin paying a minimum of $800,000 annually until he had secured city approval to develop the land.

"They don't understand how the world works," said Katell, who already has approval to build an office complex next to Pierce. "No one is going to pay big money prior to that process being completed."

Another problem, said committee members, was that the proposals were supposed to be for a 20-year lease, Rikel said. Instead, the three proposals considered by the college suggested terms ranging from 40 to 99 years.

The decision comes at a difficult time for Pierce, which has been battling a $1.8-million deficit and a 10% drop in enrollment this fall. Its troubles led to the ouster of the school's president, E. Bing Inocencio, last week by the trustees of the college district.

The development of the school's agricultural land had been portrayed by Inocencio and other Pierce officials as the lifeboat that would float the college back to solid financial ground. But it has also sparked a mutiny among some local residents.

Last month, more than 500 people converged on the Woodland Hills campus to protest development of the open space. When the district board voted not to renew Inocencio's appointment, moreover, board president Elizabeth Garfield cited his poor relationship with residents as one of the reasons. She said Inocencio "was not hearing people" who had concerns about the land.

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