North Campus desperately needs a new vision

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Two of my friends and I sat in the chipped wooden bleachers of the North Campus football stadium a few weeks ago and could not help but laugh.

To our left was a boarded up press box that hasn’t been used since CSUN’s football program ended in 2001. We watched an empty field do the only thing it’s done in years: grow taller grass. The sky-high bleachers across from us were in the process of being taken down because of safety concerns about trespassers (ironically, this took place just after CSUN’s athletic director took a new position with a focus on facilities improvements). An old scoreboard stood to our right, sponsors and all, and we wondered how fun it must have been to tailgate out in the parking lot on a Saturday morning before game time. Oh, North Campus. Sigh.

Living in the University Park Apartments for the last three years, I see North Campus all the time, and that’s not something I like. The area north of Lassen Street and south of Devonshire Street between Lindley and Zelzah avenues depresses me.

I see an underutilized Lot F10, which is now primarily used by 16-year-old drivers for first runs and an industrial steel company for some kind of long-term storage.

I see the University Village Apartments, not exactly a beacon of happy living. Parking lot reconstruction rubble surrounds the UVA like a moat. Rent increases and new parking fees at the complex, as well as a consensus by key players that the UVA simply isn’t part of CSUN’s long-term future, will soon mark the end of UVA living.

I see bags of landscaping garbage strewn across grassy areas. The only time the bags are picked up is when the Bobo Fuentes Mexican circus comes to town, which it did just this last July. I can’t tell you how weird that was.

I see a mountain-like dirt plateau that sits dead center on North Campus. From atop the plateau, there is a heck of a view of the hills in the distance – but that’s it. A chain-link fence on the plateau surrounds another storage area containing old broken pieces of the Oviatt Library that have been tagged by hooligans. The softball field that stood atop this plateau is now overgrown, barely recognizable as its former self.

I see that same football field, now on the verge of non-existence. The giant empty parking lots are only a tease of something that once was. I missed you, tailgating.

Lastly, I see the Medtronic MiniMed headquarters along Devonshire Street and I remember an old Daily Sundial article about how the facility failed to live up to its end of a deal involving student internships several years ago. I remember hearing about how their contract had to be clarified to make sure this part of it was actually met. And when I hit Devonshire Street, the farthest north I can go on the CSUN campus, I can’t help but think that the last thing I see is a building that looks like a secret government testing facility.

North Campus is a mess, an underutilized waste of campus space. But why?

From the sounds of it, the mess was caused by a combination of factors. First, the most recent development plan for the area from the late 90s was never really a plan at all, just a series of development ideas and magical visions that had no real contractual standing. Bowing to community pressure, university planners scaled back plans for a North Campus that would have included a new football stadium, post-production entertainment industry facilities, a shopping center and the MiniMed facility.

Simply from reading old Sundial articles here in our archives, it’s clear that the community pressures were quite strong. Our neighbors organized because they did not like the prospect of greater amounts of football traffic or new business ventures, yet another reason why I consider our neighbors’ presence here more as a nuisance.

We also had huge budgetary problems. There seemed to be some foggy understanding about whether North Campus should be a revenue-producing machine or an academically enriching campus space.

Now we know the answer for North Campus is the latter.

Faculty and staff housing will be the first piece of development built on the land in years, and that will start happening quite soon. That’s a great first step to recruiting better professors on this campus. The students will benefit from this.

From the looks of North Campus, however, it seems that long-term planning is not what we do best here at CSUN. I hope that this new vision of North Campus, this whole “it’ll get better in the future” model, will actually get done. As it stands now, I have no reason to believe it will. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

Ryan Denham can be reached at ryan.denham@csun.edu.