As ye sow, so shall ye reap

Editorial by William M. Macfadyen
Editor and Publisher, South Coast Beacon

Westmont College has gone out of its way to be a solid citizen. Will it be enough?

“A growing, huge ogre.” “Frontier expansionism.” A “horrific tragedy for one of the most unique and special residential areas in the world.”

No, that’s not part of the script from a new Michael Moore “documentary” about Iraq. Those are claims about an apparently far more sinister threat: Westmont College.

That’s right, Westmont College.

Many South Coast residents know Westmont as the small, Christian liberal arts school on the idyllic, leafy campus in the Montecito foothills. Based on their rhetoric, however, a handful of very vocal opponents think it’s the equivalent of Wal-Mart, Chernobyl and the San Fernando Valley all rolled into one.

So, what’s the deal? Is Westmont trying to boost enrollment to 20,000 students, cut down all of its trees, add weekend rock concerts and build a NASCAR track?

Actually, nothing of the sort.

In fact, the school is just trying to update its already approved Campus Master Plan. The plan, which was first given the green light by the county back in 1976, will allow Westmont to renovate and/or expand existing classrooms and add a single dormitory. Moving to address neighborhood concerns, it also is seeking to increase road setbacks; decrease building heights; and reduce noise and lighting exposure.

Currently, 16 percent of the 111-acre campus is dedicated to buildings, roads and parking while the remaining 84 percent is landscaping and open space. After the plan is implemented, 19 percent of the 111-acre campus will be dedicated to buildings, roads and parking while the remaining 81 percent is landscaping and open space. We wonder if Westmont’s opponents can match those percentages at their own homes.

Oh, and did we mention the school’s enrollment of about 1,200 students won’t change under any circumstance?

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Westmont officials first made these points at a public hearing two years ago. Facing nearly hysterical opposition from a few sources that bordered on the, well, hysterical, a stunned Westmont decided to undertake a complete environmental impact report even though the county had determined none was needed.

While it took precious time off the calendar and cost an additional $250,000, the new report did reveal some interesting effects: The updated plan enhances campus biological resources, reduces fire hazards, upgrades emergency access, and improves both traffic circulation and parking. Those usually are considered good things.

Westmont is to be commended for setting for itself a higher standard of accountability to, fairness with and concern for our community. On that point, we’re confident the larger Montecito and South Coast communities will agree and that county officials will move this project forward.

© Copyright The South Coast Beacon, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

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