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Court ruling halts SDSU expansion plans

Posted: October 16th, 2015 | College Area, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large

Rules state university system must start all over with new EIR

Back in August, the California Supreme Court ruled on a case brought up by the city of San Diego against the California State University Board of Trustees that effects planned expansion projects for not only San Diego State University, but for all other public universities in the state as well.

At the heart of the lawsuit brought by the city is SDSU’s plans to build the Alvarado campus that would have five new student housing structures, holding 3,400 students; a faculty and staff housing center for 348 occupants; a 120-room, 60,000-square-foot hotel; a 70,000-square-foot conference center; and the expanded school campus with well over a million square feet of classrooms, labs and parking. The Alvarado campus would lie east of College Avenue, and would cover 33 acres of the 55-acre project.

Construction for the SDSU expansion along Montezuma road may be the last for a while. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Construction for the SDSU expansion along Montezuma road
may be the last for a while. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

When SDSU created the Environmental Impact Report for the expansion project, it did not include funding for millions of dollars in road, highway and street rebuilding that would be needed to accommodate all that new development, apparently believing it would be the city of San Diego, CalTrans and the Metropolitan Transit System that would have to pick up the cost, estimated at over $15 million. The court ruled that the school system illegally tried to pass on paying any of the costs in the EIR.

The CSU Board of Trustees argued that without an appropriation by the legislature, it could not legally pay those bills.

“CEQA (California Environmental Protection Act) calls for a fair share of the mitigation for traffic impact that would need to be completed as a result of the campus expansion,” said Gerry Braun, a spokesman for the San Diego City Attorney’s office. “Once the matter is remanded back to the trial court, SDSU will evaluate the mitigation and state, in a revised EIR, what the ‘fair share’ is for the 34 traffic mitigation measures, and how it will implement and pay for the mitigation. Due to notice, and public comment periods required under CEQA for the revised EIR, the process could take several months.”

The only person able to speak for the state university system, Laurie Weidner from California State University Long Beach, could not and would not predict what might happen now.

“The university attorneys are going through the Supreme Court ruling in depth, and there’s been no indication what, if anything, comes next,” she said.

However, Braun has an idea of what might come next. “This is a fairly easy fix. SDSU has to sit down with the city and the other agencies and agree on what the school’s fair share might be, and identify where the money’s coming from.”

For residents in the neighborhoods around the college, it is easy to see why the city wants SDSU to help pay for improved traffic mitigation. Construction projects add congestion. For example, SDSU’s current expansion project at College Avenue and Montezuma Road has added traffic problems to an area that was already known for congestion.

The project, called the South Campus Plaza, is a mix of student housing for some 600 people, shops, restaurants and fast food outlets. It’s slated for completion in the summer of next year. Unlike the planned Alvarado campus, the South Campus Plaza’s EIR was approved long ago and will not be effected by the court’s ruling. That’s no comfort for the residents who live with the traffic and who fought the expansion at hearings before the CSU Board of Trustees when South Campus Plaza was first proposed.

A map of SDSU’s proposed Alvarado campus. (Courtesy of San Diego State University)

A map of SDSU’s proposed Alvarado campus. (Courtesy of San Diego State University)

As for the Alvarado campus expansion, the court throwing out the EIR that the project’s approval was based on essentially starts that process over from scratch.

SDSU will have to do that anyway if they heed the court’s ruling to draft a revised EIR acceptable to all, said Braun. That will take time, but it can be done.

Meanwhile, not a shovelful of dirt has been turned on any of the desired projects for any of the state’s public universities, nor is there likely to be anytime soon.

––Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Write to him at doug@sdcnn.com.

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