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Two-Thirds of Valley Residents Back Stadium at CSUN, Poll Finds

April 21, 1999|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Two-thirds of San Fernando Valley-area residents support construction of an 8,500-seat campus football stadium at Cal State Northridge, according to a university-commissioned survey released Tuesday.

Respondents had initially backed the stadium by a 36% to 10% margin, with a majority saying they needed more information. But when told details of the project, and that it would be built without taxpayer or university funds, the approval rating jumped to 67% while opposition grew to 16%.

Sam Jankovich, CSUN's interim athletic director, called the survey "a strong endorsement to go forward" with the stadium, which has drawn fierce neighborhood opposition.

The decision to build may lie with the university's lame-duck president, Blenda J. Wilson, who is awaiting a committee's final analysis of possible sites. She departs for an East Coast job in June.

Critics of the stadium, mostly homeowners who live near the proposed North Campus stadium site, called the survey a "farce."

"I could probably get the opposite results," said Robert LoPresti, president of a neighboring homeowners' group who serves on the siting committee. "Statistics can lie. They're trying to back their predetermined decision to build it on campus."

Jankovich denied a decision had already been made and said the survey was not rigged. "If the survey had come out and been negative we would've had to listen to it," he said.

Jankovich said CSUN will need about $9 million over the next academic year to sustain its sports teams, but that its budget was only $6.8 million this past year. He estimated the proposed stadium would cost an additional $8.5 million.

Seventy percent of the 750 respondents initially said they hadn't heard about the proposed stadium--a finding that troubled some CSUN administrators, who noted the sports facility must be financed in large part by the community.

Administrators acknowledged the survey, conducted in March by Arnold Steinberg and Associates, might reflect the rather thin attendance at many CSUN sports events.

"You're only good at what you work at and the university really hasn't worked at the sports program," Jankovich said.

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In 1997 Wilson cut four men's sports teams--volleyball, soccer, baseball and swimming--to comply with gender-equity laws while easing an athletic department budget deficit. The move was widely criticized by community members and the teams were eventually reinstated.

Still, community support remains lethargic.

"We have not seen significant financial support from the community--even those sports teams that were reinstated after being cut," CSUN Vice President Ron Kopita said. "Part of that reflects upon the athletic department's efforts [that] they have to be more aggressive . . . but the community has not come out on its own either."

Jankovich said CSUN's athletic department needs to raise $1.5 million from private sources each year to cover operating costs.

Using examples such as the University of Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and other football powerhouses, Jankovich said the stadium would provide a community center for the Valley and a solid foundation for CSUN's identity.

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"Their stadiums are a big part of their universities," he said. "It brings people to their campus and allows them to promote their school. It allows them to bring in donors and alumni. It's a rallying point and a very important piece of the puzzle as far as I'm concerned."

LoPresti said he understood the desire for a new stadium but complained that most of the people in the survey who support the proposed stadium won't have to live next to it.

Summing up the survey results, he said, "If it's not in my backyard I don't really care about what's in someone else's backyard."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Stadium Views

San Fernando Valley-area residents were surveyed about a proposed on-campus stadium at Cal State Northridge. Here are the responses to two key questions:

Q. Do you favor or oppose a proposed new stadium at Cal State Northridge, or do you need more information?

Favor: 36.3%

Oppose: 9.9%

Need more information: 53.9%

After being told that the stadium would be built without taxpayer or university funds, that it would be used for sports as well as non-sports events and would employ state-of-the-art design and technology to minimize neighborhood disruption, respondents grew more supportive, although opposition also increased:

Q. Now that you have more information, do you favor or oppose this proposed new stadium?

Favor: 67.9%

Oppose: 15.9%

Don't know: 16.3%

Note: Survey of 750 San Fernando Valley-area residents (including Glendale, Burbank and Simi Valley) was conducted March 13-18 by Arnold Steinberg and Associates. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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