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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

‘UniverCity’ Concept Gains Momentum

REAL ESTATE: 4-Year College, Mixed-Use Development Planned for Otay

School’s out for summer, but the plan for a “UniverCity” remains fresh on the minds of leaders from the City of Chula Vista and Southwestern College as well as local elected officials.

The UniverCity plan is gaining momentum, with the city and community college earlier this month signing a memorandum of understanding on a study that leaders say will lay more groundwork into bringing a four-year university to Chula Vista.

The results of the study, expected by August 2024, will be a catalyst for recruiting a university to South San Diego County. It is a direct response to the pressing need for expanded access to higher education and the creation of local job prospects, city officials say.

Decades in preliminary plans by the city, Chula Vista’s UniverCity concept incorporates and integrates a four-year college campus with a mixed-use development including industrial, commercial, retail, residential and recreational uses in the Otay Ranch part of the city.

Chula Vista officials say they aim to recruit and co-locate a unique mix of academic partners in an environment very different than a traditional university campus.

They are looking to provide a collaborative learning and research environment for engaging students, faculty and corporations for cross-border economic, social and cultural development.

Roberto Alcantar
Governing Board Member
Southwestern Community College District

Southwestern Community College District Governing Board Member Roberto Alcantar called the study, which he said would be led by the school’s academic senate and faculty, “a huge step forward for all of us.”

Alcantar said the study would take a “deep dive into the South County,” and that school leaders would spend time reaching out and talking to community members to hear their perspective on what they would like to see for students moving forward.

“We’ll also work with industry leaders, so we know what kind of skills and employees they’re looking for,” Alcantar said. “We’ll be working with our chambers of commerce (in the South Bay) to help us with a better perspective of what we want in a university. We want to know from an academic viewpoint what are the in-demand degrees that companies and the local economy needs. Do we need more folks in the maritime industry? Green and blue energy? What can we provide to help fill the demand? And let’s build those academic programs around those jobs.”

Southwestern officials acknowledge that students in the South County face a challenge of limited access to four-year universities, both from a socio-economic and geographical standpoint. It can sometimes take as long as an hour by car or bus/San Diego Trolley for those in South County to reach institutions like La Jolla’s University of California San Diego and San Diego State University in the College Area.

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann said Chula Vista, with its more than 200,000 residents, is the only city of its size in the state that doesn’t have a public university in its city limits. Chula Vista is San Diego County’s second-largest city.

Students in the area need more opportunities to succeed in all ways possible, said Chula Vista Director of Economic Development Miranda Evans.

Miranda Evans
Economic Development Manager
City of Chula Vista

Evans said there is “an amazing sense of community pride” in Chula Vista and that it is important that residents keep those ties, and not feel “like they have to leave the area for education and workforce needs.”

“A lot of students are place-bound, working two or three jobs and can’t always leave the South Bay,” Evans said. “A four-year university would meet the needs for that place-bound population of students. Having a university and an innovation district will connect them with workforce development and work in local industries.”

Evans said that partnering with Southwestern on the study will help map out academic program planning while putting a major emphasis on the region’s workforce needs. She said that together the entities can now focus on what kinds of programming would be best to connect students with workforce needs.

The concept of a top-notch university in Chula Vista is hardly new.

Alcantar said the discussion about the school for South County precedes former Senator and former Assemblymember Marty Block and current Secretary of State Shirley Weber, when Weber was an Assemblymember.

For nearly 30 years, the city – now with more than 275,000 residents and still growing — has been committed to creating a four-year school and an innovation district on more than 383 acres of city-owned land in eastern Chula Vista.

From 2001-15, the city assembled and acquired the land and completed all entitlements in 2018. The recent passage of Assembly Bill 837, authored by Assemblymember David Alvarez, ensures that the land is exempted from the Surplus Land Act securing its use for university and innovation purposes. The land act requires local governments to offer excess land for sale or lease to affordable housing developers before other uses.

UniverCity is entitled to accommodate four million square feet of academic space for 20,000 students and 6,000 faculty/staff, two million square feet of innovation district uses for 8,000 jobs, 1.6 million square feet of on-site living, 2 million square feet of market rate residential units and 160 acres of open space preserve surrounding the university property.

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