Article from the LA Times

Thursday, November 23, 2000

News from Claremont in the Times Community Newspapers

Keck foes persist in fight
Opponents of construction on field station land hope for Claremont City Council action.


CLAREMONT -- A group that sued the Claremont Colleges over plans to build a campus for a new graduate school agreed to drop their lawsuit, both sides announced Wednesday.

But the controversy over the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Sciences continues to brew. Three of the directors of the Friends of the Bernard Biological Field Station, one of whom was out of town and unavailable, agreed to drop the lawsuit, but scores of other critics of the plan objected to settling the legal dispute.

On Tuesday, the stage is set for another showdown when City Council members consider a citizens referendum seeking to overturn city approval of the graduate school plans.

Some opponents object to the mission of the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Sciences, which aims to train students as managers in the biotech industry. Other critics fear the school policy of not granting tenure would expose faculty members to pressure from companies who fund research. Tenure is offered at the other Claremont Colleges.

All opponents are united, however, against the colleges' plan to build the new campus on the Bernard Biological Field Station. The plans are under attack by the lawsuit and a movement on the part of activists who want to put a referendum on the ballot seeking to overturn the city's approval of the project.

The settlement has divided the Friends of the Bernard Biological Field Station, the group that filed the suit. One director of the group has resigned in protest.

School officials were pleased with the settlement, which guaranteed that 45 acres of the 87-acre field station won't be developed for at least 50 years.

"It's an important settlement," said Brenda Barham Hill, chief executive officer of the Claremont University Consortium. "It reaffirms and makes public the colleges' long-term commitment to using our lands for the expansion of the Claremont Colleges."

Opponents want to protect the field station, which harbors strands of rare coastal sage scrub. The land also serves as an outdoor lab for college botany classes and a destination for school field trips.

On Tuesday, City Council members will consider overturning their approval of the project. Mayor Karen Rosenthal said she would likely vote to withdraw support for the project, as city officials have recommended. That would allow the colleges to return with a new plan for developing the field station.

Ironically, settling the lawsuit paved the way for the council's vote to repeal the ordinance.

"The problem with that is that once the agreement is official, the referendum is off the books," said Jason Venetoulis, a Redlands University professor, who resigned from the board of the Friends of Bernard Biological Field Station after the settlement was first announced.

The colleges made a number of promises to settle the lawsuit, and the changes are likely to be enough to make the referendum irrelevant, Venetoulis said.

"The issue has become really twisted and contorted," said Carol Bowden Gil, a college teacher and backer of the referendum. "They will have out-sneaked and out-tricked us again."

Should a majority of City Council members vote to repeal the agreement they approved last summer, they will keep the referendum off the ballot in March. Overturning the earlier vote would force the colleges to either wait a year and try again, or come back with a new plan that is supposed to be "substantially different" than the current one.

City Atty. Sonia Carvalho said the colleges' pledge to set aside 45 acres of the field station alone was sufficient to change the plans enough for the council to reconsider.

On Tuesday, backers of the referendum might find themselves in the unusual position of asking the City Council not to do exactly what they had requested in their referendum because they prefer to let voters decide the issue. They took out a half-page advertisement in a Claremont newspaper in support of the proposed referendum for the March ballot.

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