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WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Pierce College officials are in talks with biological technology industry officials to set up a new biotech complex on a piece of the campus’ unused farmland. Pierce President E. Bing Inocencio said the likely tenants would be private companies working hand-in-hand with the school’s science and agriculture programs, providing internships and job opportunities to students. The center would help the school meet its goal of bringing in at least $800,000 a year from new projects to be developed on the roughly 200-acre parcel. “I’m very confident we’ll have a (biotech) project,” Inocencio said. The school has yet to issue formal requests for proposals for the development, which must be collected and submitted to the Los Angeles Community College Board by mid December, Inocencio said. In addition to a biotech facility, the school likely will solicit proposals for other projects, such as a golf course, he added. Ahmed Enany, executive director of the Southern California Biomedical Council, a local industry group, said a Pierce project would be similar to a proposed $80 million biotech park at Cal State Northridge, which received final approval from state university trustees Sept. 16 from state university trustees. That facility, which will be built on 28 acres of the school’s north campus, will serve as the new home for Sylmar-based biomed firm MiniMed Technologies Inc., and is intended to give science students hands-on experience in the field. “We believe we can set up something that fits very well with the biology or chemistry departments, that can strengthen the campus educationally but also would be of benefit to the industry,” said Enany, who explained that a 60- to 70-acre parcel would be optimal for the center, though it could be managed on as little as 40 acres. Enany said that a 40-acre biomed facility could generate enough rent money for the school to meet it’s $800,000 a year goal aside from revenue from a golf course or any other project. The MiniMed project at CSUN will pay about $850,000 a year in rent for 28 acres; a 40-acre development at Pierce is likely to generate more than $1 million a year, Enany said. A Pierce College facility likely would have little trouble finding tenants, Enany added, as there are more companies looking to locate expand in the Valley area than there are suitable facilities or developable land. He said the Biomedical Council has begun talks with a number of local and out-of-town firms about setting up facilities at Pierce, though he declined to name any of them. “Firms that would benefit from being there are the kind that may be extracting medication out of plants, or doing agricultural biotechnology kind of work, or animal husbandry,” he said. “These would be the kind of firms that wouldn’t violate the land-grant mission and would not disrupt the kind of zoning that exists there.” Bob Scott, vice president of the Los Angeles city Planning Commission, said the proposal sounds promising. “It fits in with the educational mission of the school, which is to create job readiness for people living in the San Fernando Valley,” said Scott, who is also co-chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. “It would mean clean, community-friendly industries.” Pierce College was founded in 1947 as an agricultural school to train World War II vets for farming jobs. At the agricultural program’s height in the 1970s, more than 2,000 students were enrolled, though that number has dwindled to only a few hundred each semester. There are now several dozen head of cattle, sheep, chickens and other livestock, as opposed to more than 1,000 a couple of decades ago. The college has been searching for ways to exploit its underused farmland and at the same time bolster its curriculum. The college also says it needs to generate some $800,000 a year to update and fund its course offerings. In addition, that amount must increase by 10 percent every five years for at least 20 years if the school is to continue to keep up with demand, according to a plan approved by the Community College District on Sept. 9. Last year, budget cuts forced Pierce to cut 29 percent of its classes. Inocencio said it is unclear how much land will be allocated for either the biotech facility or a golf course, though a golf industry consultant said that the minimum space needed for an 18-hole course is about 140 acres. A number of golf-course developers, including the Lake View Terrace-based Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, are expected to submit proposals, he said. After decades as a Valley fixture and educational resource, the possibility that Pierce will develop its farmland has generated some controversy from nearby neighborhood groups. Organizations are particularly miffed that the college may solicit bids for a golf course, with some questioning the educational benefit of such an enterprise. Inocencio defended the proposal, arguing that a golf course could provided opportunities for students to study things like turf management and golf-course superintendence, which he termed a “growing industry.” “The farm that we have now is obsolete and needs no more than at the most 80 acres, so you cannot say that we are abolishing it,” Inocencio said. “The way agriculture is done in the real world is quite different from what is being taught here. More and more people are doing farming with a lot of technology and computers.” Gordon Murley, president of the Federation of Hillside & Canyon Association, opposes a golf course, partly because it would use up a great deal of land but also because it would benefit the education of only a small number of students. He also is critical of building a biotech campus on the farmland, saying the presence of companies on the campus would damage the educational process. “The only thing the students will learn (in internships) is what those corporations want, instead of preparing them to get a job with any company in the field,” Murley said. By launching a biotech campus at Pierce, the school would join in a growing trend where colleges are becoming directly involved with the biotech industry, which has become a fast-growing sector of the state’s economy. In addition to CSUN’s partnership, for example, UC San Francisco also is designing a 43-acre biomedical research campus with the idea that companies would locate near university labs. And USC and UCLA are both raising funds to build $100 million biotech research labs. Inocencio said in mid September that Pierce lawyers were preparing request-for-proposal (RFP) documents detailing the type and scope of development projects the college is looking for. He said he expected separate RFPs to be issued for a golf course, a biotech facility, and possibly for other types of projects. He mentioned, for example, that there was interest from at least one company to set up a culinary arts facility and curriculum. Such a program could well complement the agricultural curriculum, Inocencio said. “The funds will mean a revitalization of our agricultural facilities, and we will be looking closely at what will they give us for what they ask of us,” Inocencio said.

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