The Arboretum and the Campus Master Plan: Now is the time to speak

By: John Bock
Professor of Anthropology
      Director, CSUF Center for Sustainability

The Campus Master Plan process is scheduled to be finalized over the next several weeks. It is crucial now for those in the campus community to ensure that their voices are heard. With the decision-making process at this critical stage, my goal here is to provide clarity on the options so that all concerned are approaching this from the same evidentiary base.

On April 10, 2019 an exercise was conducted by Flad Architects, one of the largest architectural firms in the United States, their various contractors and associated companies, and CSUF Capital Programs and Facilities Management (CPFM). Thus included a presentation by Flad delivered once in the morning and again in the afternoon (available here https://masterplan.fullerton.edu/files/CMPPresentation.4.10.19.pdf). At both sessions Vice President Danny Kim spent a substantial time taking questions from the attendees. The vast majority of the questions had to do with the issue of how the Arboretum is incorporated into the master plan, although it was clear that many other issues regarding student learning, wellness, transportation, housing, and other features of the campus have raised common concerns, thoughts, and suggestions. The audience members, including many students and alumni, spoke with passion and intellectual clarity. The overwhelming message was to not build on the Arboretum.

Concerns about the Arboretum in the master planning process first came to wide attention after the March 7th Academic Senate meeting, when a proposed statement of opinion was circulated that included options to build on the Arboretum. Vice President Kim also shared a newspaper article from the time when the Arboretum was being created, with a paragraph circled regarding the possibility of dorms being built on the land if needed at a future date. Coupled with rumors that had been circulating for at least a year about possible parking lots or dorms being built there, campus and community members expressed concern resulting in an article in the Fullerton Observer as well as two Change.org petitions that together collected over 35,000 signatures. This material emphasized the apprehension that a dorm or parking lot/structure would be built on the Arboretum. The CSUF administration responded in a number of venues that the Arboretum would not be “demolished,” and that no “dorms” or “parking lots” would be built there. The CSUF administration also has emphasized that the current Arboretum Strategic Plan is a guiding document.

Although the university has stated that no dorms will be built on the Arboretum land, Vice President Kim has proffered the concept of a “conference center” with integrated “housing.” The “housing” would face the current student housing complex and the conference center would open into the Arboretum with an idea to synergize infrastructure for cost and logistic efficiency. This housing would presumably include student accommodation to meet the anticipated demand for new on-campus student housing. Although the materials provided by Flad are difficult for me, and many others in attendance at the April 10 events, to accurately envision locations of proposed buildings, the “conference center/housing” complex appears to be situated at the southeast edge of the Arboretum immediately to the north of the current dorms.

In the Flad April 10, 2019 presentation, the east side of the Arboretum, including this area, is listed as “Currently Available [to Accept Growth] (Surface Parking and Open Space)” (slide 27). This appears to be 15-20% of the Arboretum. An important question, then, is what exactly is in this area now? First, the Arboretum Strategic Plan https://fullertonarboretum.org/documents/strategic_plan.pdf, which covers the period 2005-2020, designates this area for an “east side garden” (p. 24, Activity IV.B.1.d). Over the last 13 years, a plan was developed and implemented, resulting in today’s learning farm, orchard, and compost facility that together cover 2.25 acres of the east portion of the Arboretum. This area also contains a drilling site for research and demonstration by Geology faculty and students. These areas support student and faculty research and experiential learning for hundreds of students, as well as integrate community engagement and important contributions to the sustainability programs at CSUF. They are not open spaces available to accept growth in the form of a conference center/housing complex or other buildings/structures.

The other three development items in that section of the Arboretum Strategic Plan are the administration building, maintenance building, and research greenhouse. The current structures are by any measure inadequate and in need of major renovation or replacement. It would seem that before any new construction is considered on the Arboretum, and if the Arboretum Strategic Plan is a guiding document, these should be the top priority. In that way the Arboretum will be meeting its own goals. In addition to those existing buildings on the Arboretum, there is also substantial space along the northern edge currently used for maintenance and storage that could accept expansion of the existing building footprint. It would seem that if a purpose of the Campus Master Plan is to provide a description of future building potential, the Arboretum’s own priorities established through its planning process should be reflected, not options that mischaracterize and/or ignore existing conditions.

It may be true that most of the building on the new Campus Master Plan may not occur, owing to financial conditions, shifting priorities, administrative flux, changing transportation and residence patterns, or other unforeseen reasons. The reality is, however, that any designation on the Campus Master Plan will make an area vulnerable to building. My suggestion to the administration has been simple: state that any construction, building, or other structures on the Arboretum will not take place in green areas: the botanical collections, ponds, farm, and orchard. This would send an unambiguous and clear statement to the campus and greater community that would allow all to move forward to produce a Campus Master Plan that exemplifies CSUF’s values, without harming the Arboretum’s plants, agricultural space, and student research and learning activities. I have made my opinions in this matter clear through the Campus Master Plan website (http://masterplan.fullerton.edu), public forums, and in individual communication to members of the Master Plan Executive Task Force, and I encourage you to do the same. This is the time for the faculty to be heard.

 

 

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