Cal State Fullerton officials say Arboretum will not be demolished to make room for dorms, but professors, students are concerned

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Cal State Fullerton professors, students and local residents are taking to social media to express concerns that a project to update the campus Master Plan could include demolishing the Fullerton Arboretum or taking out the farm and orchard area to build dormitories — a claim university officials deny.

Two “Save the Fullerton Arboretum” Facebook petitions had a total of more than 18,000 signatures as of Thursday evening, March 21, with a number of signers adding messages of support.

The 26-acre Fullerton Arboretum at the northeast corner of the campus has a collection of 4,000 plants from around the world and is home to a number of student and community programs. It is one of 21 arboretums in the world to receive the highest level of accreditation for its plant collection and educational value.

“It is somewhere … most people from Fullerton have visited at least once,” one of the change.org petitions stated. “Maybe for a wedding, a field trip, a farmers market, a cooking class, or just to relax. It supplies produce to non profits around the community.

“It has welcomed the Dalai Lama, Bill Nye and the world’s largest flower. It has given kids of the neighborhood a fundamental understanding of most ecosystems in California and a better understanding of how to be friendlier to the environment.”

As part of the Master Plan update, architects and planners are continuing to meet with Arboretum leaders to explore all possible options for sustainable use of the Arboretum to enhance its offerings for students, faculty members, staff and the community, James Grant, interim associate vice president of Strategic Communications and Brand Management, said Thursday.

Grant did not mention any specific proposals or options. “Creation of the new Master Plan is a public process, which includes soliciting opinion from our campus community as well as our neighbors,” he said.

Arboretum Director Gregory Dyment was unavailable for comment.

The idea that Arboretum land could be used to build student housing is a misconception, Grant said. “This idea was included in a student housing study that was completed 10 years ago. This study is outdated and no longer a consideration when planning future use of the Arboretum.”

The outcry comes after weeks of rumors about the fate of the Arboretum leading up to an April 10 community open house on the Master Plan update. The plan is typically updated every 10 years, according to the Master Plan website.

The project kicked off in January 2018 with a forum, interviews and surveys. At the meeting next month, officials are expected to present two to three options for building uses, campus boundaries and expansions, building locations, open space and parking and circulation, according to the website.

Arboretum supporters say they have heard of options that included demolishing the Arboretum, which they say is less likely, or building on the farm and orchard area, but had not received any more details from CSUF administrators.

Anthropology professor John Bock said he is concerned about the future of the U-ACRE (Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience) program, which each year has 15 CSUF undergraduates and several graduate students participating in community projects at the Arboretum’s farm in the areas of food security, nutritional sufficiency and sustainable urban agriculture.

The program, for which Bock is co-director, has been funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants program since 2011. The current grant is $1 million covering 2016-2020, he said.

“I am glad that the university has publicly stated that building dorms on the Arboretum is officially off the table,” Bock said Thursday. “However, I am not sure that this is enough to assure both the campus and greater community that the east side of the Arboretum will be kept intact and that no buildings or parking lots or structures will be placed there.”

The April 10 meeting is where campus employees, students, alumni and community members can provide input that would help refine the plan to support “CSUF’s mission of teaching, research, and public service into the future,” Grant said.

A preferred option could be presented this summer, according to the website, with a draft and final plan by February 2020.

Arboretum supporters say the Master Plan process itself has pointed to the importance of the Arboretum for the university. According to the results of a “Make Your Mark on Campus” survey last spring, the Arboretum was named the “Most Liked” spot on campus by faculty, students and staff.

“They had us put stickers on the parts of the campus that were our favorite,” said Scott Hewitt, professor of analytical chemistry at CSUF and a Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum board member. “The Arboretum was No. 1 and yet that’s the area they are trying to cut. That doesn’t make sense.”

Hewitt is one of many CSUF professors who have student projects at the Arboretum. This semester his students are working on a project to develop biodiesel from cooking oil to run tractors at the Arboretum.

“We’re taking waste and converting it to a usable resource to cut down on costs for the Arboretum,” he said.

Complicating matters is the fact that the city of Fullerton is cutting financial ties next year with the Arboretum. The city has had a contract with the university to pay the Arboretum annually for its operating costs since 1976 — the most recent payment was $240,000. But that contract ends in December 2020.

Dyment told the Register last month that officials have come up with ways to increase Arboretum revenues — dipping into long-held endowments, boosting marketing efforts at area hotels, bringing in more food and chef-led events, seeking more donations and charging admission for the public but not CSUF students.

Find out more

The CSUF Master Plan Open House will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 10 at the Clayes Performing Arts Center Lobby. Two brief presentations will be held, at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., to give an overview of the plan and next steps. Information: https://masterplan.fullerton.edu