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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Trustees OK Local Site as 23rd CSU Campus

Education: Vote is contingent on such factors as securing an additional $13 million annually from the state to run the school.

May 13, 1999|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County lawmakers are forging a unified front in their bid to have the Legislature establish an operating budget for a public four-year college near Camarillo, following final approval Wednesday of the new campus by the Cal State University governing board.

The financial support is key to the trustees' decision to accelerate the timetable for launching a free-standing university at the closed Camarillo State Hospital complex.

The 24-member governing board unanimously voted to adopt Cal State Channel Islands into the CSU system, making it the 23rd campus and setting the stage for opening the university at least two years earlier than anticipated.

That vote was contingent on several factors, including the ability to draw an additional $13 million a year from the state budget to operate the university.

Toward that end, local legislators said they stand ready to lobby their colleagues, saying they are confident they can squeeze the extra money out of Sacramento given the strong economy and the addition of education-friendly Democrats to the offices of the governor and secretary of education.

"Timing is everything and we feel the time is right to accelerate development of the campus," said state Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo), one of the most ardent supporters of the local university. "We have had widespread, bipartisan support so far and I'm very optimistic that will continue."

In bringing Channel Islands into the CSU system, trustees agreed to ask lawmakers to establish a permanent operating fund for the campus.

In November, Cal State officials intend to ask for $10 million for fiscal year 2000-01 to hire many of the founding faculty members and plan academic programs. Officials will ask for an additional $3 million in 2001-02 for the same purpose.

If the money comes through, and a handful of other criteria are met, the Channel Islands university could be ready to open the doors to its first students as early as August 2002.

The governor's next budget, issued in January 2000, should give the best indication whether there is the financial support to make that happen, Cal State officials said.

"Really, the key event for me is the budget," said Richard West, senior vice chancellor for business and finance for the Cal State system. "If the money is not there, we will just defer the timeline until we get the dollars."

Of course, local lawmakers say they would rather open the college sooner than later. And many are in leadership positions that could help bring that about.

O'Connell, for instance, is chairman of the Senate's budget subcommittee on education and chairman of the Democratic caucus. Newly elected Assemblywoman Hanna-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) serves on the Assembly's higher education committee, while Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) is a rising Republican leader.

Add to that the appointment of former state Sen. Gary K. Hart, who represented Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for 20 years, as education secretary, and it provides a formidable local contingent pulling for the new campus.

The timing is also good in other ways. The state economy is in fine health and legislators expect to end up with a budget surplus of about $4 billion this fiscal year.

While there promises to be plenty of competition for that money, Ventura County representatives say they will ask that the new campus get a share of those dollars.

"There are going to be a lot of places competing for those dollars, but certainly I have my eye on $10 million to $13 million I want to see going to the Cal State system," Jackson said.

"I'm confident, given the fact that the school really has been progressing and that we have a demonstrated need for this school, we should be able to find these funds," she added. "We will be there, not just cheering and rooting along, but working hard to make it happen."

That sentiment is not universally embraced, even among lawmakers who represent Ventura County.

State Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), an early opponent of the university and now a lukewarm supporter, said she doesn't intend to be a factor in the funding debate. Wright said she is still bitter over the decision to close Camarillo State Hospital, a move that opened the door to transforming the property into a college campus.

While she said she won't oppose the university, she also won't lobby on its behalf.

"I've got other battles to fight," Wright said. "They have their contingent that will fight for it, they don't need me."

In the end, other local lawmakers are hoping it won't be much of a fight.

The lawmakers say they will stress to their colleagues the region's 30-year wait for a Cal State campus and talk about how Ventura County is the most populous county in the state without a four-year public university.

Most importantly, they said, they will talk about the generations of local students who have plowed into an education dead-end for lack of an affordable college.

"We want to help, however we can, to get this up and running for the students of our community who want to attend a university in their county," Strickland said. "Working together, I think we can really accomplish some good things."

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