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IVC Must Stay On Course

June 30, 2002

Irvine Valley College's mission statement doesn't mince words. The college exists to provide quality education for students in a rapidly changing world. The document doesn't say anything about leasing a huge chunk of the campus to a private developer for a $500-million entertainment and office complex.

That's why people were caught off-guard earlier this month when word surfaced that an IVC dean had been meeting with a developer who wanted to build a massive, for-profit venture. The trustees of the South Orange County Community College District are to be commended for putting the educational purpose of the district first by rejecting the plan last week before it could gather more momentum. The plan called for a 2,000-car parking garage, a seven-story office building, a 300-room hotel and a 13-acre movie production facility, along with a 2,000-seat theater, a 2,000-seat auditorium and 10,000-seat athletic stadium. The massive complex would have been built on a 30-acre tract.

The proposal was out of sync with the city of Irvine's general plan and existing zoning. The city envisioned the orange groves now standing near the corner of Jeffrey and Barranca roads as one day hosting recreational facilities and college-related construction--not hotels, parking garages and a Hollywood production lot. City officials hadn't had a chance to review the proposal, and from what it suggested, many of the plan's elements also clashed with zoning in the area.

The proposal also was at odds with IVC's own planning process. Community colleges are required to create a master plan that describe how they intend to grow. There's nothing in IVC's long-range planning that was even remotely close to the proposal that was submitted to the board by Howard Gensler, IVC's dean of humanities and library science. College deans have a lot of clout, but one has to wonder how this kind of major campus land-use negotiation got to the stage it did. It probably should have been handled in the first place at a higher level of administration.

Colleges do need to be creative when crafting their long-term plans. State funding shortfalls aren't going to go away, so IVC is right to be on the lookout for possible funding mechanisms. IVC clearly needs better athletic fields and a theater where fine arts students can perform. The athletic fields and performing arts complex would have been made available for IVC students, which would be a plus. But faculty members were right to argue for a much smaller theater to serve the real needs of the school community.

The plan's backers maintained that the for-profit approach represents IVC's best shot at generating funds to expand the community college campus. But we were skeptical of a plan that would turn over public land for a decidedly risky project. If the board is serious about seeking additional funding, it should first follow the lead of nearly two dozen other community college districts in the state that this year will ask voters to approve local bond acts that would help fund improvements.

The developer's demand for a 99-year lease also was worrisome. State law allows community colleges to lease land, and developers have built a hotel, office buildings and a movie theater on other campuses. Typically, though, colleges stick to short-term leases that make it easier to regain access to land as needs change. Having wisely avoided locking itself into a poor plan with a long lease, the district now must examine more modest improvements, and ensure that it has the flexibility needed to meet the educational needs of future students.

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