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California and the West

Cal State Campus in Ventura County Gets Final Green Light

Education: Trustees approve takeover of former mental hospital in Camarillo for conversion to system's 23rd college. Decision caps 35-year campaign.

September 17, 1998|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking the final step toward launching a four-year university in Ventura County, Cal State trustees agreed Wednesday to take possession of a shuttered mental hospital in Camarillo and convert it into a college campus scheduled to open in fall 1999.

Spurred on by more than 50 university boosters, the Cal State governing board, which met in Long Beach, signed off on an environmental study evaluating the conversion project before agreeing to turn the complex into the system's 23rd campus.

The board's action, which received a standing ovation, kicks off a yearlong push to transform the Spanish-style buildings on the 630-acre property into the classrooms and offices necessary to launch the inaugural phase of the campus next September.

And it sets the stage for creation of another free-standing, degree-granting university within the next decade, capping a 35-year campaign to deliver a Cal State campus to the area.

"This truly is a watershed event for Ventura County," business leader Carolyn Leavens told trustees, her voice cracking with emotion.

"We perceive this campus to very literally be Ventura County's field of dreams," she said. "It is exactly that, and we are here to thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Wednesday's board action stopped short of immediately converting the former Camarillo State Hospital into a public four-year college to be called Cal State Channel Islands.

Rather, Cal State officials agreed that the hospital will first become the new home for Cal State Northridge's Ventura campus, which now holds mostly evening and weekend classes for about 1,600 full- and part-time students.

The renovation project went out to bid earlier this week, and contractors are expected to start work by mid-November.

Under the trustees' plan, the campus will remain an extension of Cal State Northridge until it attracts enough enrollment--about 6,000 full- and part-time students--and funding to stand on its own.

But Cal State officials said that, more than anything, Wednesday's vote signaled a promise on the part of the university system to meet the educational needs of Ventura County residents by establishing a public college they can call their own.

"This is a full commitment to the 23rd campus--there's no turning back," said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who toured the campus over the summer. "This is a great gift to the people of Ventura County from the people of California. I don't know why it took so long, but the wait is over. That decision was made today."

The board's decision came more than three decades after Cal State officials first targeted Ventura County as the future home for a Cal State campus.

Back in 1965, Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr. signed legislation authorizing a study of potential Ventura County sites for such a campus.

Four years later, the state bought 425 acres in Somis for a campus, but sold that land in 1976 after the project stalled.

Nearly two decades later, Cal State officials targeted several hundred acres near the beach in Ventura, but opposition from nearby residents thwarted that project.

More recently, Cal State planners proposed a campus on a sweeping hillside parcel at Taylor Ranch, but again local opposition surfaced.

The California State University governing board ratified two items Wednesday.

One committee, dedicated to campus planning, approved an environmental study evaluating the conversion of the shuttered hospital complex into a college campus.

A second committee, made up of nearly all 24 members of the governing board, agreed to formally accept the hospital property into the CSU family, sealing the relationship between Ventura County and the university system.

That was when university boosters got a chance to speak. Sporting red-and-white buttons that read "Yes! CSUCI Yes!" a half-dozen community leaders took turns hammering home the need for the local campus.

They called Ventura County the most populous county in the state without a four-year public university.

And they said that despite the county's relative affluence and high-quality schools, it lags far behind counties of comparable size and wealth when it comes to shepherding students to college.

Said Allan W. Jacobs, vice president of the board of trustees for the Ventura County Community College District: "With the opening of a new institution of higher education within the border of Ventura County, and with resolve on the part of both CSU and our district to create a seamless transition to this new four-year institution, we can be a model for the rest of the state."

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