By Susan Luzzaro
A four-year university has shimmered for many years like a mirage on the road ahead of South County residents, and like a mirage, the definition of the university is constantly shape shifting.
Back in l986, the vision was a four-year university. A Los Angeles Times article titled “South Bay plans to lure a university to the area” stated:
“Hoping to lure a four-year college or university to the rapidly growing South Bay, a group of public and private officials Monday offered to donate at least 150 acres in the Otay Lakes area to any institution interested in opening a campus.
“Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox, Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista) and City Councilman David Malcolm said they hoped to attract the new school to one of three Otay Lakes sites offered by EastLake Development Company…”
A 2005 U-T article titled “Chula Vista moves on university” informs South Bay residents that the four-year concept morphed to “a multischool campus” that could be either public or private. The same article reported that the city, with Steve Padilla serving as mayor, was spending $1.2 million dollars on consultants to solidify “involvement from academic and research organizations” and to identify “funds to develop the university.”
During former mayor Cheryl Cox’s two terms, as the land was still being acquired, the project was referred to as “a university park and research center.”
In July of 2014, 10news offered an enhanced university vision—one with the possible use of the Olympic Training Center.
In that report City Manager Gary Halbert said he “envisions the university wrapped around High Tech High and bordering vast new neighborhoods, mixing with an innovation district where students can leave class and walk to an internship in high-tech or the bio-tech industry.”
Halbert’s words “innovation district” ushered in the newest rendition as the city website now refers to the 375 acres as the University Park and Innovation District.
Some South Bay County residents still embrace the vision of students strolling across a campus not unlike San Marcos, but a Brookings Institution report offers this semi-illuminating definition of an Innovation District:
“Innovation districts are the manifestation of mega-trends altering the location preferences of people and firms and, in the process, re-conceiving the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking…
“At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors—across sectors and disciplines—co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market.”
Perhaps the latest round of consultants hired at the April 14 city council meeting will layer the University Park and Innovation District with another identity. At that meeting, council members unanimously approved $700,000 to hire two consulting firms to prepare various concepts, scout universities, and look for funding.
The consultant group U-3 Advisors, is tasked with assisting “the city in the creation of the Chula Vista University Partnership; guide the City and the CVUP in the marketing, fundraising and recruitment for the development of the 375-acres…”
Among other things, the consultants will compile a short list of university targets and explore philanthropic funding with foundations like Kresges, Gates, Rockefeller and Ford.
The other consultant group, Ayers Saint Gross, will assist the city in completing the SPA [specific plan]. To that end, the consultants will hold a series of workshops with the city and other stakeholders. One of the workshops may be held in Tempe, Arizona to look at a university model.
Ayers Saint Gross will also develop three scenarios for the University and Innovation District: a multi-institutional district; a single-institutional district and a mixed use district “where institutional footprints are accommodated in an urban pattern.”
In a May 6 interview, Scott Donaghe, a principal planner for the city of Chula Vista, interpreted the three scenarios. He said one version of the university “is like Stanford—all by itself.
“Another one would be like Auraria in Denver, Colorado with three different campuses that share administration buildings and libraries.” Donaghe said the Auraria Higher Education Center is very successful and houses Colorado State University, University of Colorado and a community college.
The third version according to Donaghe, “would be if it just ends up being kind of a conglomeration of colleges but they don’t have a traditional campus, they’re just mixed into the square footage of the site, with maybe commercial or innovation on the ground floor and classrooms above.”
Donaghe said the goal is to accommodate approximately 20,000 students and 6,000 faculty members. He also stated that 290 acres of the land is dedicated to a university or universities, and the remaining 85 acres will be the Innovation District.
High Tech High charter already occupies 10 of the 375 according to Donaghe.
During the next year the city will be completing the Environmental Review and the Specific Plan for the 375 acres. The consultants are expected to bring their findings forward in January of next year.