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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023


By SARA FISHER Staff Reporter Pierce College in Woodland Hills is under attack by community groups for looking into selling or leasing part of its 240-acre farm for commercial activity. Much is at stake in the battle. The community faces the loss of one of its last large pieces of open space, while the financial viability of Pierce College may hinge on the fate of its farm. “After seeing our enrollment decline for the last 16 years, we need to change our basic educational delivery,” Pierce College President Bing Inocencio told the Los Angeles Community College District’s Board of Trustees last month. “I want to offer more educational opportunities in technology. Careers that involve technology show where our country is going, and our responsibility to the students is to reflect this.” But the school, which suffered a $4.8 million budget cut this year, is hard pressed to fund such courses, let alone pay existing operational costs. Consequently, the college’s Board of Trustees is eyeing the school’s most lucrative resource its land. Founded in 1947 as an agricultural school, Pierce College maintains a working farm that contains tillable and range land, as well as an orchard and herds of livestock. Currently, fewer than 300 students out of Pierce’s 15,000 full-time students take classes in the agricultural department. The campus as a whole encompasses 435 acres and is the largest community college in the district. Community outrage over the possible loss of the farm has been quick and fierce, considering that no action will be taken for over a year. The college confirmed that it will not make any decisions regarding the land until it finishes the Facilities Master Plan, which is projected to be completed in 15 months. In September, however, the board voted to re-examine the feasibility of developing the land as a means of raising funds for the school. The board orginally considered developing a golf course on the farmland in 1994, but shelved the idea. The current uproar was prompted in part by the Board of Trustees’ decision to lease a parcel of land adjacent to the campus to developers. Several bids have been submitted so far, including one from a fast-food chain. No closing date has been announced. Even though that piece of land is not part of the farm, some residents fear the decision signals that the board is more willing to open college land to development than it was three years ago. Upset about the loss of a working farm’s educational opportunities, a disruption to the habitats of migratory animals and of course the much-vaunted open space that adds property value to the surrounding neighborhoods, community groups have sprung to action, organizing protests, letter-writing campaigns and petition drives. “I recognize the terrible financial shortage facing Pierce, but there is a massive need for agricultural education,” Dorian Keyser, a representative of the Sierra Club, told the Board of Trustees during a public hearing last month. “Agriculture is California’s largest industry and we need to continue training and educating people for this industry.” Although those hoping to save the farm are highly vocal, some local residents, former college employees and current teachers favor any means of raising revenue to enhance the college’s quality of education. “We cannot afford to maintain the very expensive agricultural department any more,” local resident Steve Sheldon said at the meeting. “It is a frivolous waste of our taxpayer money. The land is worth tens of millions of dollars. Use that money where it is needed in the quality of the education.” L.A. City Councilwoman Laura Chick, whose district includes the college, had urged trustees to hold last month’s public meeting on the farmland’s future. Chick has not taken a position on development of the land, but City Hall approval would be needed for any rezoning to allow development.

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