Much has been made recently regarding a potential full-fledged California State University in Stockton, and rightfully so. It’s pretty remarkable that a city of our size has been overlooked for a state school while places such as Humboldt, San Marcos, and Chico have campuses. Even the largely unpopulated Channel Islands has a CSU! Given Stockton’s size and economic need, it’s really only a matter of time before a CSU Stockton takes root here. In fact, the process has already begun as Assemblywoman Susan Eggman’s bill authorizing the feasibility study of such a campus recently passed through the state assembly.
And while the prospect of a CSU Stockton is still several years away, that hasn’t stopped speculation about where this university could be located. Not only would a CSU Stockton be a boon the city overall, it has the potential to change the dynamic of the neighborhood where it would be located. Given the high stakes, it’s never too early to consider where a CSU Stockton could be placed. Here’s a handful of the most talked about potential sites for the campus along with the pros and cons of each.
Last year, Stockton had the extreme good fortune of having the Stanford Global Urban Development Program (GUDP) come to town to conduct research on the development potential of South Stockton. If you’re interested in their entire body of work, which culminated in a presentation to the city Planning Commission just two months ago, here’s a first-person story SCL published a couple months back. As part of their research, the group looked at the potential for a CSU Stockton campus on the south side. The group focused mainly on a location off of MLK Boulevard and Highway 99, as you can see below.
Locating a college campus on the south side makes a lot of sense for that part of Stockton as it could provide a tremendous economic boost and infuse thousands of college students and faculty into a distressed neighborhood. The census tracts around the proposed site indicate extreme levels of poverty, and bringing a CSU to the area could only help to alleviate this.
However, while a CSU Stockton would bring some economic benefit to the area, the chosen site has drawbacks that could significantly affect the success of the campus and curtail its overall impact on the city. Chiefly, the connectivity to the rest of Stockton is lacking. While college campuses have the ability to transform a neighborhood, the rather secluded nature of the GUDP site would stymie those potential benefits. The location is boxed in by train tracks to the east and a large industrial site to the north. These barriers would severely limit any potential spillover into the surrounding neighborhoods that could benefit the most. Moreover, while it’s within city limits, the potential site is rather suburban and even rural in feel with no established commercial areas. Given these factors, it would be difficult to establish a cohesion between the university and surrounding neighborhood.
Also, this particular site features little proximity to existing areas of industry that students could draw on. Ideally, students at CSU Stockton could get hands on experience at area institutions such as medical facilities or law firms or marketing companies. However, the industries surrounding this potential site are mostly large scale manufacturing. In order to fully integrate into the city’s economy, students would have to travel to other areas of the city for internships and work experience, negating some of the potential positive impact on the surrounding southside neighborhoods.
In addition to South Stockton, GUDP also assessed a location in North Stockton along Lower Sacramento Road. In my mind, this location makes the least amount of sense. While spacious, a North Stockton location would be isolated from the rest of the city, limiting its economic impacts. GUDP draws the same conclusion. This location also has zero proximity to any specific industries that students could draw from (unless you count the Alpine Meat Packing facility). And these flaws are not unique to the GUDP site: any campus in the outlaying northern parts of the city is bound to face the same challenges given the area’s poor connectivity and auto-centric layout.
On occasion, Downtown Stockton is mentioned as a candidate for a CSU campus. This seems like a logical choice in some respects as a downtown campus would undoubtedly spur investment in an underdeveloped area and bring thousands of students into the city’s business hub. Businesses could tap into the university for interns and graduates could seamlessly transition from student life into the downtown workforce. Also, a downtown campus would easily connect to the rest of the city and region given the multiple transit options available.
There is one glaring problem, however: there’s nowhere to put a full campus downtown. As noted by GUDP, a CSU Stockton campus would need a ton of space no matter the location. Unfortunately, Downtown Stockton doesn’t have nearly enough contiguous open space to create a fluid campus. While some universities such as San Jose State are woven into a downtown, these campuses still have a significant amount of congruous land. On top of that, because this campus would most likely be a commuter school, parking would be a tremendous challenge. Sure, some students would arrive by public transit given available transit connectivity, but the majority probably would be driving alone. At best, a Downtown Stockton CSU campus would be a patch work of buildings with little to no open space, no character defining quads or historic buildings.
Downtown Stockton is much better suited for satellite graduate and professional programs from the University of the Pacific or other schools. It’s quite common for universities in other cities to invest in small campuses in downtown areas to take advantage of proximity to local institutions. Many MBA, law, medical or other programs are routinely located in urban areas rather than sprawling undergraduate university campuses. For example, UC Davis medical school is actually located in Sacramento. Fresno State just announced that it will open a satellite campus downtown in conjunction with area businesses. The University of Maryland’s policy, law and medical schools are headquartered in Downtown Baltimore. A handful of these kinds of professional programs located in Downtown Stockton would be hugely beneficial without the massive space requirements of a full campus.
While a complete university in Downtown Stockton is not feasible, there exists another option that achieves many of the same benefits and in my opinion is the clear, obvious choice for a campus in Stockton: the aptly named University Park.
Less than a mile north from downtown proper, University Park is the most logical choice for a CSU Stockton campus. It’s big (just over 100 acres, according the website), has large open lots for new construction and a number of historic buildings that could be incorporated into the campus as well. The area is already well maintained, featuring an abundance of trees, street fixtures and even a pond and water feature. It’s also already home to the CSU Stanislaus satellite campus.
And perhaps most importantly is University Park’s proximity to the city’s health care sector and downtown core. One of the major issues facing our region that a CSU Stockton could help alleviate is a lack of health care professionals, so it makes perfect sense to locate a university within close proximity to health care services. Students could easily get hands on training at the adjacent St. Joseph’s Hospital and surrounding health care providers. These institutions are always looking for assistance (in fact St. Joseph’s pays big bucks for Bay Area doctors to moonlight here because of a lack of health care professionals locally). On top of that, Downtown Stockton and it’s 15,000 jobs are just down the street, providing many of same the mutual benefits described above.
In addition, the surrounding neighborhood would reap tremendous benefits from a university. Right across the street from University Park sits the Magnolia Historic District, home to some of the city’s finest homes and architecture, though the area has long suffered from neglect, crime and poverty. A university would instantly change the dynamic of this neighborhood and the parallel California Street commercial corridor would see a major improvement as well.
Of course this site is not perfect. This site also has a train tracks stopping any spillover to the east. And while listed at 100 acres, it’s not all raw land and some parts are already occupied by companies. The park is owned by Grupe Companies and it’s not clear if they would agree to hold out for a full-blown college campus, especially given that a CSU Stockton is probably 10 years away from fruition. Congestion may also be a concern, though the area is large enough that parking garages could easily be accommodated.
Nevertheless, it’s my non-expert opinion that University Park is the most reasonable choice for a CSU Stockton. Do you agree? Disagree? Take our poll below and explain your choice in the comments section.