Cuesta College’s faculty opposes the Dana Reserve project

After two days of discussion over the controversial Dana Reserve development, Cuesta College’s academic senate decided to vote in opposition of the proposed project. 

The vote came on Oct. 27, less than a week after Cuesta College President Jill Stearns spoke during public comment at the Oct. 23 SLO County Planning Commission meeting, highlighting the fact that in addition to the project’s proposed 1,300-plus housing units, the development aims to house a South County campus for Cuesta. 

click to enlarge Cuesta College’s faculty opposes the Dana Reserve project
File photo by Peter Johnson
ANTI-RESERVE: Cuesta College’s faculty recently voted to officially oppose the Dana Reserve project, joining others in condemning the project such as Nipomo residents Alison Martinez (left) and Kelly Kephart of the Nipomo Action Committee.

“Mr. Tompkins has shared with the Cuesta College board of trustees his generous intent to donate property for an educational site as part of the planned reserve,” Stearns said. “This property aligns very well with the needs of Cuesta College for a South County location.” 

Stearns added that hiring and keeping Cuesta employees at any level is challenging due to a lack of affordable housing, which the reserve would help. 

“Cuesta College has a permanent full-time workforce of just under 900 employees that expands during the academic year to over 11,050 inclusive of temporary and part-time employees,” she said. “In an average year, we hire 70 new permanent employees, and like other large employers in San Luis Obispo County, we lose great candidates because of the housing challenge. In fact, affordable housing is the No. 1 reason cited by those who decline offers of employment.” 

Although Stearns has been speaking on behalf of Cuesta College when it comes to the Dana Reserve, Cuesta College English professor Wesley Sims said that faculty has been left out of the conversation. 

“I’m on the South County Task Force, and that’s made up of administration and faculty, and this never came before us in that task force. It never came to the larger faculty,” Sims told the Sun. “So, you know, to me, it kind of speaks volumes when you’re not bringing these decisions to faculty, and I think the reason they didn’t want to bring it to faculty is because they knew we’d be in opposition.” 

The South County Task Force is charged with providing input regarding what programs, certificates, degrees, courses, and/or curriculum may be well suited to South County. Cuesta currently leases a classroom at Arroyo Grande High School to offer limited classes to South County residents.

Sims said that faculty is dealing with confusion around this project because until the Oct .13 and 27 academic senate meetings, most faculty members knew nothing about Cuesta’s role in the Dana Reserve. 

“The really frustrating thing from our perspective was that faculty were uniformly against the proposed Dana Reserve but there were a few members on senate who really thought we couldn’t be speaking [on it],” he said. “We usually wouldn’t bring a thing like this to the academic senate but because Cuesta’s administration is showing up to these meetings and speaking in favor—they might not be saying the words in favor but they’re speaking in favor—is really misleading because faculty aren’t for it.” 

Sims said that he doesn’t want the public to get confused about where a majority of the college stands regarding the Dana Reserve. 

“Faculty make up a large portion of the college, and I don’t believe the students are for it either, so I feel like Cuesta is getting a really bad name by the admin. who are supporting this publicly, and we want to jump in and say, ‘Hey, you know, not so fast,’” he said. “There’s a lot of opposition here and that comes from the faculty.” 

During the Oct. 27 academic senate meeting, one of the senators said that this project doesn’t align with the college’s values because it promotes environmental and cultural destruction. 

“Biologists educated us about the environmental destruction in the [environmental impact report], the Northern Chumash Tribal Council educated us about the possible destruction of the cultural heritage,” the senator said during the meeting. “As a bioarcheologist, I’ve worked several projects in the area, and the community we served educated us about their concerns. Let our actions reflect our values.” 

During the meetings, senate members were presented with a six-page document from the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, which mentions that the Dana Reserve “completely ignores the Chumash history in Nipomo and lacks any discussion of local sites of importance to which the resources in the project area may be related.” 

According to the minutes from the Oct. 27 academic senate meeting, the academic senate council also opposed the development because the project would cause irreparable environmental damage, including the destruction of 3,000 mature oak trees and rare Burton Mesa chaparral habitat. 

The Dana Reserve project is slated to go before the SLO County Board of Supervisors on a yet-to-be-determined date. 

“That should go to the [Cuesta] board of trustees on probably the first Wednesday in December, but it’s really not as if there will be any more action other than informing the board of trustees that we’ve passed this resolution,” Sims said. “What we’re really hoping is that we can show up to the [SLO County] Board of Supervisors meeting and say there’s a more complicated relationship with Cuesta College and you know faculty are in opposition.”

Comments (0)
Add a Comment