La Prensa América presents:

Chula Vista’s Adventures in Universitylandia, or Chula Vista’s University Dreamin’

By Susan Luzzaro

The future home of a university for Chula Vista.
The future home of a university for Chula Vista.

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.

17 comments on “Chula Vista’s Adventures in Universitylandia, or Chula Vista’s University Dreamin’

1986, we are now coming up on midway thru 2015. It is sad, that we as a society continue to minimalize the importance of education. How many of us know a family member, a friend, who is MAJORLY in debt due to educational loans?

Supply and demand – a city/county this size should surely have more to offer those who desire to pursue higher education. An accredited four (4) year college in the South Bay no doubt would be heralded – but waiting for the first shovel of dirt to be dug is proving to be frustrating.

700k paid to these consultants – it would be interesting to know how much money has been used since 1986 to explore the College/University effort.

A society will continue to grow only if we as its members continue to grow in intelligence, and that is accomplished by way of education.


The city council’s approval of $700,000 for consultants to “..prepare various concepts..” is redundant and wasteful considering that  $1.2 million has already been spent for basically the same thing. Mr. Donaghe’s first scenario, a Stanford-like university by itself, should be the first choice. Next best would be the second scenario, a combination of universities and a community college. But, the idea of having classrooms above commercial establishments, wrapped around a charter school (High Tech High) should, in my opinion, be dismissed out of hand.

Kristin P.

This quote from the Brookings Institution sums it all up,“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.”

The Brookings Institution and other public policy think tanks work public relations for promoting P3 in education. A multi-institutional or mixed use district will most certainly be occupied by private “not-for-profit” universities offering up expensive, worthless degrees to our Chula Vista students who will be saddled with this college debt for years to come. The current narrative of crisis in public education is a manufactured crisis and the venture philanthropists expect a return on their investment through private “nonprofit” universities and MOOCS.

Noami Klein’s, The Shock Doctrine, is an excellent read on this subject of manufactured crisis for profits from public institutions. Reading that the Ford Foundation might be tapped for this project I immediately thought of this book. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to American public schools as the Ford Foundation was to Chilean public schools, charter schools and all. Let’s just hope that Bill Gates doesn’t own a fleet of Ford Falcons.

Chula Vista should demand that nothing less than a UC or a CSU occupy this space. For all the promise of “career and college ready” served up by our public schools, the taxpayers should demand nothing less than a public university for a return on their investment in our schools.


At the outset of the plan for the University site, the Baldwin Company offered 400 acres for the development of a university site, and their offer was restricted to a 4-year university of California. Through the years, the site was modified due to changes in the economies of the area and the developers, but the site was consistent to the area directly west of the Olympic Training Center. The ‘offered’ site was environmentally sensitive, which offset the enticement of the offer. The 400 acres were conditional on the acceptance of the area as an appropriate site, which was to ‘offset’ the environmental sensitivity. The number of acres has been somewhat modified due to various legal decisions and modifications of the various developer entitlements.
It is no surprise that the city’s position and proposals have changed over the years. The multi-use proposals were the result of objections by other stakeholders and attempts to participate.

It will be interesting to see what happens next…Does the City of Chula Vista have title to those original 400 acres from Baldwin/or successors?

anniej, your point about education is well-taken–we must value it. People are fond of saying –college is not for everyone–which may be true–but the point is right now parents and students are hard-pressed to get into good schools. There aren’t enough openings and the
degrees are very costly. As Kristin P says, there are a lot of “non-profit” universities around town–one on every corner. I’ve heard from several local students who say these so-called
universities helped they tap out their loans–but didn’t help them get their degrees, programs fell through, professors left etc.

oskidoll, So cheered to see your knowledge brought to bear on this–Thematically, the article was trying to pursue the iterations the “university” has been through. Mr. Donaghe was generous with his time and information; there was a lot more that could have been included. I asked about the density of development in exchange for university land, Mr. Donaghe said technically that wasn’t correct. He said developers are offered an opportunity to go before the council with their projects and get them processed faster. He said HomeFed developers got Village 8 West and 9, State Street Bank took over Baldwin’s land and they got to develop Villages 3, 8East and Village 10.

Maybe that’s what happened to the Baldwin restriction on a four-year university?

Not Amused

If they want something surrounded or centered around High Tech High something smells like
a kickback for Qualcomm and Gary Jacobs. Follow the money Ms Luzarro I’m sure some campaigns have or will be donated by them. I do believe High Tech is a great school but something is fishy


With the exception of three years, I attended and graduated from Chula Vista schools from K-Southwestern College and know the benefits of public supported education. I question the four year concept of a “status” university which more about the politicians and business interest than about education. I asked Jerry Rindone, whom I did not vote for, about a technical university in the mode of the Cal Polys that could affiliated with the universities in Baja California. Additionally, there is a need for a quality low cost alternative to UEI, ITT, and the like for young people and those switching careers or who have lost jobs.

Southwestern College was once much more community oriented in terms of programs and activities then it is now, as it has become just a degree issuing business. Education should be affordable and demand quality from faculty and students. I have multiple degrees as such, I do not equate degrees with knowledge or even education, it is a business. It is time to ask why do we still have math and language problems, but want more colleges and universities which have become vocational in nature. There was a series in the blog “The Art of Manliness” that discusses, the history of higher education, whether to go to college, and alternatives to college. The so called everyone needs a college education is a falsity, what is needed is the affordable knowledge and training equivalent to a traditional college education on a continuing basis throughout one’s life. Why not upgrade Adult Education and fund more on focused education and training in addition to a traditional four year education on the site? There are very bright young people who do not want to go through four years in college, they need and desire a place to further their dreams. Other countries have a variety of career paths accessible to students, why not try something different and be leader in 21st Century education. Too many students do not have degrees or knowledge or skills after they have been directed to go through the high education cycle. Use the land to create a difference in how higher education is developed and used by the students.


Hello again Susan,
As I recall, the increase in density in the Otay Ranch Western Parcel (the first villages that came online) was approved by city planners more as a result of the anticipated (but yet-to-be-realized) plan for a spur of the trolley system to go east-west into the development, to offset increased traffic. The traffic has indeed increased, but the transit plan never actualized.

The university land ‘gift’ of 400 acres was Baldwin’s pitch to give the project the appeal of an economic engine to generate jobs and revenue, as well as panache, or status, with the most prized land (on the east side of Lower Otay Lake)to be reserved for University administrators, another enticement to the University system to site a campus on the donated land.

At that time, the UC Merced campus was in its embryonic stage but Baldwin consultants were already working the legislature as well as UC administration in hopes the next campus after Merced would come to the Chula Vista site. Baldwin also hosted a gathering at the Otay Ranch House (former hunting lodge of former United Enterprises owners, the family of Mary Birch Patrick, I believe) to build support and influence for a new UCCV among local grads of all UC campuses.

Baldwin and some of the other developers hit hard times and there was some bartering or horse trading of land parcels…I think that is the primary reason the acreage now totals less than 400 acres.

The ‘shared use’ concept arose when it became evident that UC was not in a position or likely to bite at the offered opportunity in Chula Vista.

Interestingly, the original pitch for a UC campus included suggestions that such a campus would be ideally suited for technological research and cross-border enterprise.

not amused, that was an interesting comment and caused me to look a little further for now.
One of the things that surprised me when doing the background for this article was that the charter High Tech High had already been given 10 acres of “university” land. (I believe Mr. Donaghe said a 99 year lease.) I’m not sure when this agreement was made, who initiated it, or which stakeholders were involved. Surely, for instance, one of the local school districts, given the amount of money involved here, could have modeled a High Tech magnet school.

There is also a graduate school component to High Tech. As you suggested, not amused, I looked at the board. I noticed a lot of familiar names, including Jacobs. Libia Gil on the founding board. Superintendent Escobedo on the current advisory board. Here’s the link, if it works.

Oops — trying again with the link:

This will take you to the graduate school, which offers a degree for teachers, then click on
about us and you will find the board.

oskidoll, what a wealth of information. One of the U-T articles about the scenarios of the past had a quote from John McCann in his first term as city council member. He suggested a combination of something like the Mexican University Cetys, Point Loma Nazarene and Southwestern. (McCann supported Ed Brand’s university pursuit as well.)

I spoke with a Southwestern official yesterday and this person said it’s interesting that Southwestern hasn’t been approached in this newest re-vision.

As CVLancer says–there are many bright young people who don’t want a four-year university.
A Southwestern component might enhance the choices. (I heard air-conditioning installation and repair was well-paid and in demand.)

Personally, I’m fond of students, young people being exposed to a little of everything–i like the idea of educating people as citizens as well as employment.


I didn’t jump right in to the comments here because there is much to sort out.

First of all, I think it would be great to have a four-year university here; years ago I said in some comment section somewhere that Chula Vista should work on creating a facility that is 100% accessible, makes good use of solar power, utilizes water gathering and saving technologies (roof pitches that allow for collection, etc.), xeriscopic landscaping and is a model for the kind of work opportunities that will keep our planet functioning. So–this sort of place could be ideal for internships in various engineering fields, so that students can move forward with confidence that they have learned valuable tools for making a living as well as contributing to the well-being of all.

Well, that’s a lot of optimism, I know.

I had also thought that those military personnel who were living with difficult medical situations might be able to find a place that would help them heal and help them find themselves in a place where further technological developments would provide the sort of encouragement that can make a difference.

I still wish that could happen.

However, all these thoughts got sidetracked by the complete horrific mess that was Sweetwater, and the entrenched political deal-making that leaves us with useless study following useless study, with nothing to show for it.

I don’t want to descend into rant territory, so I choose to focus on some of the good things that are happening.

1. For-profit educational entities that really took everything and gave little to nothing are falling by the wayside.

2. People are beginning to realize that while internships are vital, some controls need to be put on them, so companies do not just use new grads for up to four years after graduation and give them nothing. Unpaid internships can be just another form of worker exploitation!

3. Tracks into the working world need to be visible to students, so that they can plan and step into these learning situations when it most benefits them.

4. Arts, music, literature and story-telling in all its forms are important–without these we human beings can lose our ability to find joy in life.

5. This part of San Diego county has a great deal to offer: what about a study that shows graduation rates, those who have gone on to community college, four year college, military service, straight into the workforce…and see where we are trending.

6. What about a counseling entity that helps assess in a very honest way, how a young person might find a pathway. High school counselors can’t do everything.

7. We all could benefit from young people becoming engaged in the improvement of all the communities here in south San Diego county. We can’t leave things to the shadow-dwellers who have been trying to run things for their own benefit. Business-as-usual and entrenched political entities have not been helping us, remember?


Elections are over,Brand and Cox gone. The land leaves an interesting question. Can it be used for anything else?

Eastlaker, I define myself as utopist, which often sinks to optimistic, which might even sink to
wishful, but at least you have laid out a blueprint for what we might wish for. For-profits in non-profits clothing are also a concern. You mention unpaid internships–I -that’s food for thought, something I need to learn more about.


Continuing some of the thoughts of “cvlancer”, a third Cal Poly might be just the thing!

Along with expanded SWC opportunities.

I did read that SWC had success in an engineering competition against 4 year universities recently–this sort of creative, imaginative thinking along engineering lines is exactly what could benefit this region the most.

The more I think about this, the better it sounds!


I checked out Cal Poly’s website. Technology, Liberal Arts, and a PUBLIC institution. Sounds good to me!

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