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California Supreme Court Rules SDSU Expansion Improperly Approved

San Diego State University's Hepner Hall.
San Diego State University's Hepner Hall.

The California State University board improperly approved a major expansion project at San Diego State without providing funding to mitigate traffic impacts on surrounding neighborhoods and Interstate 8, the state's high court ruled Monday.

The California Supreme Court upheld a previous appellate ruling that ordered CSU to vacate its approval of the project's environmental impact report, because such funding wasn't included.

After the environmental document was certified by the CSU Board of Trustees eight years ago, the city of San Diego, San Diego Association of Governments and Metropolitan Transit System sued to get the decision reversed.

According to the justices, the CSU board declared that it did not need to pay for mitigation absent appropriations from the Legislature. Funding to improve roadways around SDSU never appeared in a subsequent budget.

The high court found that the CSU board misinterpreted a previous related ruling regarding projects at Cal State Monterey Bay.

"This is an important decision which treats the CSU system like any other developer," City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. "It must come to the table and negotiate its fair share in a way that protects the environment and protects the city's taxpayers."

Goldsmith said the ruling will carry "great significance in cities" throughout California.

Fram Virjee, CSU's executive vice chancellor and general counsel, said the ruling was disappointing.

"Environmental mitigation is costly and the CSU will be required to seek additional funding to meet increased enrollment needs and to cover mitigation expenses," Virjee said. "That said, we will not let this challenge deter us from our critical mission. We look forward to working with state agencies and with our local communities throughout the state to meet our citizen's needs and serve the state of California."

The EIR for the SDSU expansion included a 348-unit housing complex for faculty and staff, a 612,000-square-foot classroom complex with an adjoining parking garage, a 120-room hotel, conference center, five student housing structures for 3,400 residents, and the recently renovated Aztec Student Union.

The expansion project was created to meet a CSU board mandate to enroll 10,000 more full-time equivalent students and hire nearly 1,300 more faculty and staff by the 2024-25 academic year.