Chula Vista City Hall
Chula Vista City Hall. Photo courtesy of the city

Chula Vista has a 400-acre property designated for a university campus and innovation district. While council members agreed in February to move forward on the project by with an initial investment in legal and real estate assistance, the decision came out of sequence.

While contracts will be needed down the road, the more pressing issue to capitalize on this mega opportunity lies in the strategy for how to build a university that will become a credible, permanent and transformative institution within the community. 

At this stage in the process, money would be better spent creating a sustainable financial model. Recruiting a university comes later.

We need to first understand our area of focus for innovation, which should be driven by what gives us a competitive advantage. This should be something that’s sustainable with a public benefit and purpose that’s closely tied to the city’s economic development and able to leverage other local assets such as industry, weather and proximity to the border. 

One idea could be to take on the global challenges our society faces and focus on research that would create long-term, significant change in Chula Vista. For instance, global warming, renewable energy, water supply, alternative industrial production, new farming methods, and pharmacological development are among the areas that would the need the research and development that the university would provide.  

Once we have a solid understanding of the issues we’re choosing to tackle then we can look to the philanthropic community or startup world for funding and expertise. Chula Vista is in a unique position to build an institute of higher education while attracting high-paying jobs to drive business goals.

A research institution could help offset the cost of student programs and be an attractive incentive to private or philanthropic investors. A focus on research and innovation are key. This is why it’s critical for us to consider research and innovation first and bring education along with it. 

The goal for a university and innovation district is a world-class educational institution with an entrepreneurial environment and culture that encourages innovation and technological development. While a project of this scale will not be an easy one to accomplish, it has the potential to be transformative.

Although Chula Vista has developed over time into a bedroom community, that doesn’t mean it can’t evolve into something much greater. What we have before us is a blank slate with incredible opportunity — but we’ve got to get it right.

What we need on these 400 acres of available land is a university focused on supporting high paying jobs that becomes a sustainable institution with meaningful public benefit.

Rudy Ramirez is a former city councilman and current candidate for mayor in Chula Vista. Ko Sharif is an attorney and Chula Vista resident.