The Claremont University Consortium (CUC) announced July 27 that it is selling part of the land it owns in the Bernard Field Station (BFS), a 75-acre tract of undeveloped land north of Foothill Blvd., to Pitzer College, Scripps College, and Harvey Mudd College (HMC). Previous proposed land sales involving the BFS have met with protests from students, faculty, and community members who have expressed concern that sale of the untouched land could lead to development.
Pitzer plans to use the land it is purchasing for its new Robert Redford Conservancy, which will include classrooms and laboratory space dedicated to environmental sustainability. Scripps and HMC have not yet indicated plans for their parts of the property.
According to students and faculty involved in the BFS, the field station has proved an invaluable academic resource for the 5C community. Its coastal sage scrub habitat features a number of endangered native southern California plant and animal species, and it is used extensively for research, teaching, and community tours.
However, with CUC adding a new institution at a pace of nearly one every twenty years since Pomona’s founding in 1889, the BFS has had a turbulent history.
In 2001, more than 100 students protested proposed development of the BFS, barricading the entrance to CUC’s Pendleton Business Building. A lawsuit filed by the community group Friends of the BFS led to a settlement where 45 acres of the field station were set aside for preservation through at least 2051.
More recently, in 2009, HMC’s purchase of land on the western side of the BFS for potential development as a “green parking lot” sparked outcry from Students for the BFS (SBFS), a student group dedicated to the preservation of the field station. The issue remained heated until last fall, when the Claremont City Council passed a new parking ordinance that obviated HMC’s need for an additional parking lot.
The field station has remained undeveloped since then, but some students expressed concern that the recent CUC sale could lead to construction.
“To know that students do not want this developed, I think, is important,” said Lindon Pronto PZ ’11, the Environmental Senator on Pitzer’s student senate and a leader of SBFS. “It’s a place to go for serenity. We’re in this area where everything is developed and to be able to go across the street and into a different world [is important].”
The land sale would transfer 36 acres of CUC’s land in the BFS to Pitzer, Scripps, and HMC. Pitzer’s parcel would constitute about 14 acres and would be devoted to the area around the Robert Redford Conservancy. The deal is still being finalized as the colleges discuss pricing.
The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College was announced last spring after a Pitzer trustee and her husband donated $13.5 million for the project. Along with the land acquisition, Pitzer plans to convert the old infirmary at BFS into a center dedicated to environmental sustainability, with a focus on sustainable design and architecture. The center would have gathering spaces, classrooms, and laboratories.
The land purchase coincides with Pitzer’s recent hiring of a new Environmental Analysis (EA) faculty member and the creation of a new EA track focused on “Sustainability in the Built Environment.”
Scripps does not have plans for developing its portion of the land, Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga wrote in an email to The Student Life.
“Scripps College has no immediate plans for the property we intend to purchase,” she wrote.
HMC also has no current plans for development, but according to the CUC news release, the school will “explore potential uses of the land to achieve long-term institutional priorities.”
In response to the news of the land sale, some Pomona students and faculty proposed that the college buy HMC’s portion of the BFS to help ensure its preservation. Pomona President David Oxtoby said that the idea had not been discussed in official meetings, but he said the college is dedicated to helping preserve the field station.
“We really value the biological field station piece. We don’t want to see that compromised,” Oxtoby said. “Whatever we can do to make sure it remains a strong field station and is useful for our students and faculty, we certainly want to explore that.”
SBFS members and supporters said they will continue putting pressure on the colleges to preserve the ecosystem at the field station. They identified Scripps in particular as an unknown factor in the future of the BFS.
“That’s one of our goals for the semester: to put some pressure on Scripps,” Pronto said. “Scripps has been left out; Scripps hasn’t really played much of a part.”