Dana Reserve project could add new Cuesta College satellite campus — but faculty aren’t happy

Cuesta College could be the recipients of land for a satellite campus in South County — but a portion of the college’s faculty are speaking out against the project and urging officials to remain neutral when commenting on it.

In a resolution passed Oct. 27 by the Cuesta College Academic Senate — the body tasked with making academic and professional recommendations to the San Luis Obispo County Community College District’s Board of Trustees — faculty called on the university to maintain a neutral position on the Dana Reserve housing project in the works for Nipomo.

“Cuesta College faculty call upon all Cuesta College’s trustees and administrators who speak about the Dana Reserve project at any local planning meetings to begin their remarks by (a) clarifying the official neutrality of the district with regard to that project, and (b) stating clearly that they are speaking as private citizens and not in their capacity as representatives of the district,” the resolution said.

The resolution highlighted the Nipomo project’s environmental impact, which would include the destruction of more than 3,000 oak trees and their surrounding habitat, the high ratio of expensive homes, impact on the local school district and local opposition as reasons to keep the university out of the project despite statements made by Cuesta College representatives at local government meetings.

The resolution also called for the district, which oversees Cuesta College, to make a statement of neutrality on Dana Reserve.

Meanwhile, Cuesta College President Jill Stearns said previous statements made by her and other administrators don’t constitute support for the project.

“I’ve spoken very carefully, and I’ve spoken about how there is a generous gift included in the project of property for a future South County location for Cuesta College that aligns well with what we have been pursuing to try to obtain in South County,” Stearns told The Tribune. “I have also talked about how the No. 1 challenge we face in hiring is availability of housing for individuals coming from out of the area.

“I have not spoken about the project in particular,” she said.

The Dana Reserve Housing Development would add more than 1,400 homes to Nipomo. NKT Commercial
The Dana Reserve Housing Development would add more than 1,400 homes to Nipomo. NKT Commercial

Former student says community college has shown support for Dana Reserve

Ara Costello, a resident of Nipomo, said she initially reached out to the Academic Senate with her concerns about the Dana Reserve project through English professor Wesley Sims, whoultimately authored the resolution.

Costello, who took Cuesta classes at Arroyo Grande High School prior to being accepted to Stanford, said though the resolution on the faculty’s opposition may seem like a change in direction from the college, “the reality is that none of the faculty were aware either of the development, or of Cuesta’s involvement in the development, whether that is as an alleged neutral party or as a public supporter.”

“It’s not so much a change of direction as the first opportunity for Cuesta faculty to have input into the process,” Costello told The Tribune.

The resolution said though Stearns has spoken at local government hearings on the project without explicitly stating the university’s support, “... when Cuesta College administrators speak on behalf of the Dana Reserve project at community planning meetings, they give all those in attendance at the meetings the false impression that Cuesta College is officially in support of the project.”

Costello said as a Nipomo resident, she’s concerned the 1,470-unit project won’t add homes that are affordable to most people, and will hurt the connection people feel to the land.

Cuesta College faculty are speaking out against the proposed Dana Reserve which would add housing and potentially a satellite campus in Nipomo. Courtesy of Dana Reserve LLC
Cuesta College faculty are speaking out against the proposed Dana Reserve which would add housing and potentially a satellite campus in Nipomo. Courtesy of Dana Reserve LLC

She also said the 288-acre project represents a contradiction with the college’s Land Acknowledgment, which acknowledges that Cuesta sits on lands of ancestral, traditional and contemporary significance to the Northern Chumash people.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council expressed opposition to the project in a letter on the Dana Reserve’s original environmental impact report, saying it “considers the cumulative impacts of this project to be substantial, and that the proposed mitigation measures are not adequate to mitigate those impacts.”

“We were curious as to whether or not there was integrity in Cuesta’s Land Acknowledgment, or if it’s just something that they say, and are unwilling to examine the way in which they may or may not be in alignment with that proclamation,” Costello said.

Northern Chumash Tribal Council Letter to Cuesta College trustees by Kaytlyn Leslie on Scribd

In the past, Stearns has spoken at meetings related to the project, including the Oct. 24 San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting, and has stressed the need for more housing for Cuesta College faculty and staff.

“Affordable housing is the No. 1 reason cited by those who decline offers of employment,” Stearns said at the hearing. “In fact, this year we hired four new deans. Deans are cabinet-level management positions on the highest end of the salary schedule, yet even they were challenged to find rental or purchase options.”

Stearns said Cuesta is looking to hire 24 full-time faculty members by next fall, and said the project was aligned with the university’s need for more housing.

“The college stands to benefit from the generous gift that is planned in the project, but determining whether or not the project as proposed moves forward is not anything that the college or district has responsibility for,” Stearns said.

Cuesta College has not made an official statement of neutrality since the resolution’s passage.

The Dana Reserve is expected to next go before the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors for consideration, though a date has not yet been set for the hearing.