Cuesta College Superintendent and President Jill Stearns has been singing the praises of the 1,300-housing-unit Dana Reserve project in Nipomo, touting the space it’s allocating to a new South County campus for the college, and advocating for all the “affordable” housing it’s going to bring to the area.
She’s toured the public meeting circuit, speaking at listening sessions and advocating for it at government meetings, including the SLO County Planning Commission’s meetings during the last week in October.
“This property aligns very well with the needs of Cuesta College for a South County location,” she said at a recent SLO County Planning Commission meeting.
Oof. I bet now she wishes she had consulted with the faculty first.
Cuesta’s faculty feels extremely differently—the college’s academic senate felt the need to push back against the idea that all of Cuesta supports the project. Not only that, a member of the college’s South County Task Force said the project hadn’t come before the task force, which is supposed to advise the college about what’s best for the region.
So, the task force that’s in charge of advising Cuesta about actions in South County didn’t even know there were plans in the works to build a South County campus? That’s crazy!
“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,” said task force member and Cuesta College English Professor Wesley Sims.
Stearns, why didn’t you bring the decision to faculty? She didn’t return the request for comment from the Sun’s reporter, so I’m guessing she doesn’t want to say.
Sims said most of the college’s faculty was in the dark about Cuesta’s role in the Dana Reserve project until recently, when it came before the academic senate, which voted to take a stand against the reserve due to environmental concerns (like chopping down 3,000 mature oak trees) and cultural concerns (like indigenous sites that it said should be protected and aren’t).
“I feel like Cuesta is getting a really bad name by the admin. who are supporting this publicly,” Sims said.
So the faculty publicly rebuked Stearns for her support and spread the word. She might be feeling sheepish or she might not. Either way, it’s not a good look for Cuesta.
Just like chopping down thousands of oaks isn’t a good look for the Dana Reserve developer. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping the project, which is headed for the SLO County Board of Supervisors for a final decision.
But maybe it’s like 37th District Assemblymember Gregg Hart says it is and people are less resistant to development in general because they’re finally starting to recognize the severity of the housing crisis and how it relates to homelessness.
Maybe 3,000-plus oak trees is a small price to pay for 1,300 new housing units—some of which Stearns swears will be affordable to the faculty hired to work for Cuesta.
The project may not have moved forward even five short years ago. But we’re in a new era now, a post-pandemic era where the multiple crises we were already facing are worse.
Send oak seedlings to [email protected].