Category Archives: News

Qualcomm Stadium Site Provides Opportunity to Advance SDSU

San Diego State is a dynamic and evolving university with numerous recent accomplishments – each one building on our history of excellence and achievement.  To give two examples, the creation of the Susan and Stephen Weber Honors College and the opening of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union occurred at singular moments in time, but they were the results of decades of efforts by our university community.  Similarly, SDSU’s emergence as a nationally renowned research university, while highlighted by a flurry of recent discoveries, reflects the collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, students and administrators over more than five decades.

Today, we have an opportunity that could alter the trajectory of our history for the next several decades.  In a recent blog, I mentioned three touchstones for San Diego State’s continued success in the future – the highest-quality programs, service to students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and financial strength.  While our current campus footprint of 225 acres is sufficient to support our aspirations in the short term, we will, most assuredly, need more space for the long-term advancement of our university’s programs over the next 50 years.

The San Diego Chargers’ recent decision to leave Mission Valley and pursue a downtown stadium creates this critical opportunity.  This decision opens up a host of possibilities for the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site – just eight minutes away by trolley from our College Avenue campus.

San Diego River, west of Qualcomm Stadium

While some might argue that the Qualcomm site should be redeveloped along Mission Valley’s familiar high-density, automobile-dependent pattern, San Diego State supports a low- to medium-density vision focusing on sustainable recreational and educational uses.

We see a future in Mission Valley with community parks and recreational opportunities, low- to medium-density housing, a small number of research/technology transfer facilities and, possibly, a stadium – one on a significantly smaller scale than Qualcomm Stadium – that could be shared by San Diego State, a Major League Soccer franchise and other community partners.  We are eager to join members of our community in discussing this vision.

The excitement and challenge of realizing such a vision will, of course, be in the details.  One especially exciting aspect, mentioned earlier, is that the Metropolitan Transit System’s Trolley provides a rapid, easily accessibleTwo MTS trolleys at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Transit System connection between our campus and the Qualcomm site.  This existing transportation infrastructure is critical to realizing a sustainable, green vision for the redeveloped site and for our entire university.  As just one example, faculty, staff and students residing on a redeveloped site could use the trolley system, instead of their cars, to get to campus.  This would reduce traffic in Mission Valley and in the College Area, as well as reduce our entire community’s carbon footprint and parking challenges on our campus.

These possibilities will, of course, raise many detailed questions.  Who would own the redeveloped site?  Who would be the development partners?  How would the redevelopment be financed?  The blunt answer to these questions at this moment is that we don’t know.

Researcher works in a lab at San Diego State University.It is, however, time for the communal discussion that will help us find these answers. The end point of a great adventure is rarely known, but the possibilities associated with any grand pursuit must first be envisioned.  Let’s dream as a community, knowing that the opportunity to advance the future of our university is before us.


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Montys Showcase Key Role of Alumni in Providing Quality Education

Last week, we honored our distinguished alumni at the Monty Awards.  This year’s awards were a little different.  We began the evening with a reception in the Lee and Frank Goldberg Courtyard of the Conrad Prebys Aztec SDSU President Elliot Hirshman, left, with 2015 Monty Award honoree Jack Tempchin at the awards ceremony.Student Union and then moved to the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre for a rock concert by The Mighty Untouchables. I told you it was different. Even the president got rid of the tie.

One thing, however, was the same.  The extraordinary achievements of our honorees testify to the renown and distinction our alumni bring to our university.  Among our honorees were business leaders like Andy Esparza, Ziad Mansour, Ed Marsh, and Mike Pack, who have built and led successful corporations and have been extraordinarily generous to our university.  The creative arts were well-represented. Songwriter Jack Tempchin and Hollywood media executive Mort Marcus brought a touch of celebrity to the ceremony.  Our tradition of service was also highlighted with the honoring of Jean Landis’ extraordinary service to our country and Sam Ciccati’s contributions to public higher education.  Last, but certainly not least, Associate Vice President Sandra Cook and alumnus Keith Harris were recognized for their exceptional service in advancing the university. It was a great night.

Eight of the 10 Monty Award winners honored by San Diego State in 2015.

The night also displayed the essential role our alumni play in supporting the future of San Diego State.  In an era in which state support and family resources are limited, the philanthropic support of our alumni is the key to continuing our tradition of excellence.  While the history of alumni giving to public universities in California has been limited, our alumni have, over the last eight years, met the challenge.  We set a goal of raising $500 million in our first comprehensive fundraising campaign, and thanks to the generous support of our alumni and community supporters, The Campaign for SDSU exceeded our initial goal last year and we raised our goal to $750 million.  As of today, the campaign has raised over $630 million.

The best news is that these efforts are just the start.  The potential impact that our over 300,000 alumni can have on our university is extraordinary.  As just one example, if every alumnus donated $100 per semester for student scholarships, we would have enough scholarship funding (over $60 million) to reduce the tuition of every student by over 50 percent.  Thus, 55 years since the inception of California’s historic Master Plan for Higher Education, we can still realize its vision of quality education, but we must include our alumni as full partners to do so.

Our entire university is embracing this historic opportunity.  We have created regional councils to bring together members of the Aztec family who reside throughout California and our nation.  The Aztec Mentor Program is bringing alumni and community supporters together with today’s students.  Internships and corporate visit days are providing opportunities for our alumni to guide our students in preparing for the work world, and the SDSU Strive crowdfunding site provides opportunities for every alumnus to support projects of special interest to them.  Recent graduates and current students are also playing roles.  Last year’s graduates created a $26,000 scholarship endowment, and this year 1,900 freshmen (with the help of 200 sophomores, juniors and seniors) raised $21,500 for scholarships before they had taken even a single class – a wonderful example of our theme that “Leadership Starts Here.”

I am certain we will succeed in our efforts to harness the extraordinary power and philanthropy of our alumni for the good of our university and our students. Anyone who has any doubt of this can simply look to the accomplishments of this year’s Monty Award winners to see the extraordinary things members of the Aztec family can achieve.

Replicas of the "The Aztec" statue presented to SDSU's 2015 Monty Award winners.



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Free Speech at SDSU

Over the last six months, the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment has emerged as an extraordinarily contentious issue on many university campuses.  Last spring, several speakers at commencements across the nation (e.g., former Secretary of State and Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University, former UC Berkeley Chancellor Bob Birgeneau at Haverford College) decided not to speak following protests.  This fall, significant controversies arose when a hiring decision at one university may have been influenced by a prospective professor’s tweets and when several university leaders articulated views on the relationship between free speech and civil discourse.  Given these circumstances, it is a fitting moment to review our traditions of freedom of expression at San Diego State and in the American academy, more generally.  They provide important context for understanding these controversies and appropriate responses to them.

Our policy on free expression articulates two essential principles. First, it emphasizes (section 1.1) that freedom of expression is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is essential to our educational and research missions.  It is critical to present a range of perspectives so students can understand issues and develop frameworks for thinking about these issues.  Likewise, researchers and creative artists must be able to consider a range of possible approaches in highlighting and addressing challenges and problems.  In short, freedom of expression has privileged status on a university campus.  It is “integral to the mission of the university” and an “inviolate freedom.”  This view is consistent with judicial interpretations of the U.S. Constitution (e.g., Brandenburg v. Ohio) that provide extensive protections for free expression.

Second, our policy indicates (sections 2.0 and 3.0) that even though freedom of expression is not an absolute right (e.g., “Reasonable regulations may be designed to avoid disruption of the mission of the university.”), any regulation should “maximize opportunities, in terms of time, place and manner, for free expression.”  Our policy emphasizes that regulation should be “content neutral” and “all legal speech, even offensive speech, is permitted.”  This second principle is consistent with a long judicial tradition in which speech and expression may be restricted (e.g., restrictions on speech that incites imminent violence), but such restrictions should be limited and narrow.

These principles provide an important framework for understanding regulation of free expression on campus.  For example, consider the case of proposed speakers and those who wish to protest those speakers.  In our tradition, speakers have a right to speak, even if they present controversial materials, and protesters have a right to protest, even if the motivation for their protest is controversial.

Rainbow Flag-Raising 2014

Jenna Mackey/The Daily Aztec

The principles also clarify how the university should respond to protesters who ask that the university ban invited speakers – which happens in highly publicized cases like spring commencement and in a myriad of lesser-known instances. While many protesters claim that a speaker’s appearance implies that the university endorses the speaker’s views, this is not the case.  We endorse the speaker’s right to express his or her views and the audience’s right to hear these views.  Under the “endorsement” framework, we could never invite speakers the university does not specifically endorse, and this approach would severely restrict potential speakers and our academic discourse.  The claim that we endorse the views of all who speak at the university and its corollary that we should rescind invitations to those whose views the university does not endorse are an immediate threat to our core missions of education, research and service.

There are, of course, many complications.  For example, if a controversial speaker comes to campus, can a group of protesters “shout down” the speaker? While one might claim that one is simply expressing a viewpoint, shouting down a speaker restricts the speaker’s right to free expression and is addressed in the SDSU student code of conduct.  Protesters can ask questions, hold up signs, present alternative speakers and express their own views.  They might even shout out a phrase or two during a speaker’s presentation, but completely preventing an invited speaker from speaking at our university is not within our traditions or policies.

A related question concerns whether a group who invites a controversial speaker can be forced to invite another speaker who presents a contrasting view.  This is often requested and presented as a compromise position designed to foster open discussion.  Forcing someone to invite someone to campus that they do not wish to invite is a restriction of their free expression and inconsistent with our traditions – even if the invitation might accomplish other beneficial objectives.

Important considerations also arise when one considers the relationship between freedom of expression and civil discourse or politeness.  This topic is frequently raised by university leaders concerned with campus climate.  While there is no question that civility or politeness is very important, it is equally important to recognize that, in our American tradition, the right to freedom of expression is unrelated to civility or politeness.  Our university’s protections of expression are “content neutral” and “even offensive speech is permitted.”  There are, as discussed above, regulations and constraints on expression, but a requirement for politeness is not one of them.

Even if one grants that impolite speech cannot be a basis for restricting expression, questions regarding when one person’s expression creates an immediate or pervasive threat to another person (e.g., when speech incites imminent violence) are likely to be continuing sources of disagreement on our campuses. In adjudicating such circumstances, we should follow the principle that, if any restriction of expression is necessary, restrictions should be as limited and narrow in scope as possible.

It is likely that some of what I have said will make some happy and anger others. Similarly, it may clarify some issues but not others.  In all of these cases, it will continue our powerful tradition of free expression – one that we must protect and nurture so our academic community can continue its important work.


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Special Moment to Establish SDSU as Leading Public University

As I have shared in a number of blogs, the academic year has its own unique seasons.  The year kicks off with our All-University and New Student and Family convocations and the first day of classes.  It is a time filled with excitement, “welcomes,” promise – and some measure of anxiety. SDSU band marches through campus to collect students for New Student and Family Convocation.

This year brings special opportunities to our university. Universities are not fixed in their missions or identities. They are dynamic institutions, evolving and changing over time.  In the last 117 years, and especially in the past 40 or so when Brage Golding, Tom Day and Steve Weber served as our presidents, we have developed an extraordinary tradition of achievement.  At All-University Convocation, I described many of our achievements in the past year in SDSU student at the Great Wall of programs, entrepreneurship, student success, community engagement, research and creative endeavors, and athletics, among other areas.

More recently, our campus has undergone another fundamental change, beginning with the Great Recession in 2007.  As I described in a prior blog, we have gone from being a state-supported university to being a university that is a public-private partnership.  In this latter model, our funding is dependent on multiple public and private sources.  The combination of our tradition of achievement and our recent transition to a public-private partnership funding model – one that includes philanthropy – creates a unique moment in our history.

As envisioned in our strategic plan “Building on Excellence,” the resources provided by our new funding model create powerful opportunities to support the communal aspirations of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community supporters.  To capture it in a sentence:  This special moment allows us to establish ourselves as one of our nation’s leading public universities.

This fall, we will pursue 42 initiatives as part of the second year of the implementation of our SDSU strategic plan.  These initiatives will support student success, provide our students with transformational educationalLab, laserborder experiences, advance research and creative endeavors, enhance our campus facilities and bring us together as one SDSU community.  In short, they will move us forward as a leading public university.  At the same time, we will continue to build the infrastructure to support the revenue initiatives in our new financial model – initiatives that, in turn, will support further efforts to enhance our programs and our campus.  Our success in these critical areas will lay the foundation for SDSU’s future and determine our progress as a leading public university.

While there are many ways to measure our progress (e.g., our goal of ranking in the top 50 of public universities by U.S. News & World Report), the foundational issue is who we can be and what we can accomplish as a leading public university.  We can continue to establish ourselves as a university of the highest quality where all students achieve success, where faculty, staff and student researchers address pressing societal challenges, where we come together to experience the beauty and power of the arts, and where we harness our knowledge and our talents to serve our community and the broader society.

Thank you to our entire community for supporting our university and our aspirations.  I look forward to a great year.

SDSU campus with Hepner Hall in the background.

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Building the Future

Our recent commencement weekend was one of pride and celebration and a special opportunity to show the beauty of our campus to the families and friends of our graduates.  Our facilities, custodial and landscaping staff do a great job in showcasing the campus and deserve our thanks.

In its grandeur, our campus is a powerful symbol of our commitment to academic excellence and achievement, and this year was a historic one in the life of our physical campus.  We completed construction on the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union and the newly renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler Hall complex.  Two of the largest buildings on our campus, these campus icons are centers of student life and academic programs.

Storm-Nasatir-Hostler halls complex at SDSU

Renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler complex

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at SDSU

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union






This summer, we write another chapter.  We are beginning a top-to-bottom renovation of Zura residence hall, breaking ground on our new Basketball Performance Center with its basketball practice courts and facilities and renovating our College of Business Administration with the addition of the Page Pavilion.  We also will be continuing the work on our heating and electrical systems and the painting and refurbishment of many campus buildings that began last summer.

Two important developments related to campus facilities occurred at the recent meeting of the Board of Trustees of the California State University.  First, the board approved the design for our new mixed use development on College Avenue, just south of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

SDSU's proposed housing and retail development on College Avenue.Featuring an urban greenscape and two six-story buildings, the  complex will house over 600  students and provide retail  opportunities for our students,  faculty, staff and the local  community.  The development also will provide much-needed short-term parking for campus visitors.  All of these features will be a significant step forward for our campus and our community.

Second, the board reviewed Governor Brown’s legislative proposal to shift the responsibility for facilities debt service from the state to the California State University, and CSU Chancellor Tim White voiced his public support for this proposal.  Even though the proposal may not pass this year, the landmark change in California’s financing of campus facilities has already been adopted by the University of California and is likely to pass in the near future.

While this change has raised concerns, it also creates possibilities and, for San Diego State, possibilities have always been more important than concerns.  One of the most important aspects of the legislation is that it would allow our university the flexibility to use operating funds to construct campus buildings.

This changes everything.

By combining operating, philanthropic and state funds, we could move from a passive approach of waiting for facilities allocations from the state to a proactive approach of creating funding models that allow us to pursue our academic priorities.  The new engineering and interdisciplinary sciences building that we have dreamed about for many years could move from dream to reality as fast as we could make it happen.

The landscape for public higher education in California continues to be a rapidly changing one.  Yet, within this turbulent environment, there are profound opportunities for building the future. Let’s take them!

Artist's rendering of new Page Pavilion at SDSU's College of Business Administration

Page Pavilion plan

Artist's rendering of Zura Hall renovation plans at SDSU

Rendering of Zura Hall remodel

Proposed Basketball Performance Center at SDSU

Basketball Performance Center

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Honors College Builds on SDSU History

Today, I approved the University Senate’s recommendation that we create an Honors College at San Diego State University.  As I signed, I had a cascade of visions and thoughts of our university’s history and aspirations. San Diego Normal School students on La Jolla beach, 1902. I saw the familiar photograph of young men and women, enrolled at the San Diego Normal School, sitting in a circle on the beach studying – the men in suits and the women in their Victorian-era long dresses. I saw students, faculty and staff members moving furniture and books as we established our current campus on Montezuma Mesa at the height of the Great Depression in 1931.  These visions were woven together with an appreciation for the efforts of the administrators, faculty, staff and students who led us to the university status (and current name) that we attained in 1974 and for those efforts in the ensuing 40 years that have led to progress on every significant measure of academic excellence. Students move furniture to new Montezuma Mesa campus in 1931.The establishment of the Honors College builds seamlessly on this tradition of aspiration and academic excellence.  It will improve our honors education experience, help recruit academically strong students and raise the profile of our culture of achievement.  Looking to the future, the Honors College will support a large, diverse group of high-achieving students who benefit from its focus on inquiry, engagement, and interdisciplinary problem-solving.  These students will, through their campus leadership roles and their participation in the broader intellectual life of the university, strengthen our campus culture and lay the foundation for even greater academic aspirations. The Honors College is, however, about much more than aspiration and academic excellence.  It is also about building a community, a gathering place, for a diverse group of students within a larger university.  In this regard, the establishment of the Honors College is a part of our ongoing efforts to create smaller communities of place and purpose that support student success.SDSU students study on the lawn.  Among other important efforts to bring together members of our community are the Aztec Mentor Program, the Aztec Scholars Program, the Commuter Resource Center, the Price Community Scholars Program, the Pride Center, new residential learning communities, the Writing Center and the Zahn Innovation Center.  In this regard, our aspirations for excellence support the very fabric of our community.  This thread, above all else, ties together our past, our present and our future.


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Fees and Student Success: Historical Context, Current Process, Future Impact

In the “Master Plan for California Higher Education: 1960-1975” and the associated Donahoe Higher Education Act, Californians created an ambitious framework for public higher education in the state.  A central tenet was that the state would support educational programs, while student fees would support services such as housing, food and recreation.  The critical implication was that California residents would not pay tuition for educational programs.

Students in SDSU classroomPractical problems confronted this framework from the start, and they continue to this day.  Understanding these challenges provides perspectives that help us understand the role of tuition and fees at San Diego State today.

First, it was not possible to implement the Master Plan’s no-tuition policy. Rather, tuition and fees were characterized by a staircase pattern in which they did not increase for an extended time (reinforcing the view that there should be no tuition or at least no tuition increases) and then rose dramatically (raising ire that the promise of no tuition had been betrayed). This happened multiple times. For example, from 1975-1980, tuition and fees at my alma mater of UCLA increased from $600 to $685, an average modest increase of 3 percent per year.  However, from 1980 to 1985 tuition and fees increased from $719 to $1,245, an average increase of 15 percent per year.  An identical pattern occurred from 1995 to 2005, when tuition and fees actually decreased an average of 2 percent annually from 1995 to 2000, only to increase a dramatic 16 percent annually between 2000 and 2005.

Second, the fundamental distinction between educational programs and ancillary services slowly, but inexorably, eroded.  This challenge was clear at the outset when course materials, such as laboratory pipettes, were excluded from state funding although they were clearly necessary to the educational program. Technological and academic innovations, such as increasingly powerful and sophisticated computers and Internet connectivity, exacerbated the challenge.  A variety of technology and “instructionally related activity fees” were created across the California State University to support these and other academic program needs.

In 2011, former CSU Chancellor Charles Reed issued Executive Order 1054 to provide a rational structure to understand the “share of the educational costs to be assumed by students and their families,” as well as the putative “state’s fiscal responsibility for providing funding for student access.”  The Executive Order codifies five different categories of fees.  Within these, Category I fees are “systemwide mandatory tuition fees” under control of the CSU Board of Trustees.  Category II fees are “campus mandatory fees,” and each campus president is responsible for ensuring a consultative process prior to the chancellor’s approval of a Category II campus fee.  The president must establish a Campus-Fee Advisory Committee with substantial student representation that includes the democratically elected student body president.  The university president must seek the recommendation of this committee prior to making any recommendation to the chancellor.  To gather student input, the committee may use a referendum or an alternative consultation process that includes campuswide distribution of information and outreach.

Recently, I forwarded, and Chancellor Timothy White approved, a Category II student success fee.  The motivation for this fee, as with most of the fees since the Master Plan’s adoption, stems from limited resources.  Between 2007 and 2011, San Diego State’s state appropriation decreased from $221 million to $103 million.  Since 2011, our state appropriation has increased to $143 million, and we are grateful for this renewed support.  Nonetheless, our state support is still $78 million, or 35 percent, below its 2007 level.  We have addressed this challenge by seeking cost efficiencies and increasing revenues from diverse sources, including private fundraising, non-resident student tuition and our auxiliary organizations.

Our new strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” recommends the university “work collaboratively with Associated Students to establish a university excellence fee.”  This process began this fall. Following initial meetings and student surveys, the Campus-Fee Advisory Committee recommended that we consider a student success fee through alternative consultation. Ninety percent of the revenues from this fee would support the hiring of tenure-track faculty and the addition of course sections.  The remaining 10 percent would support co-curricular academic opportunities for students.  The committee’s rationale for using alternative consultation, in contrast to a referendum, was that the complexity of evaluating the proposed fee required a full exposition of the benefits and costs of the fee rather than a simple solicitation of a “yes” or “no” vote.  I concurred with the recommendation.

The advisory committee – which has a majority student membership – created information materials and worked with faculty, staff and administrators to host 39 public forums for a broad range of student groups and the University Senate.  They also distributed a variety of letters, pamphlets and videos to inform the campus of the alternative consultation process and to encourage attendance at the public forums.  At the conclusion of each forum, students in attendance were asked whether they endorsed a fee and, if so, at what level –  $200, $300, $400, or $500 per semester.  Over 1,000 students attended forums, and feedback forms were received from 1,015 students.  Of those, 64 percent voted for a fee of $200 or more.  The average fee recommended was $318 per semester.  Following consideration of this input, the committee voted 12-0 (with one abstention) to recommend a $200 fee per semester. Although the primary purpose of the fee is to support the hiring of tenure-track faculty members, the Staff Affairs Committee also supported the fee.  The primary rationale for these votes was that the benefit to students of additional faculty members and co-curricular opportunities outweighed the costs.

The advisory committee members were both sensitive to, and mindful of, the traditions of excellence and access that stem from the Master Plan and have greatly benefited California.  Two important steps were taken to help students whose ability to enroll at SDSU might be impacted by increased fees.  The fee increase will be implemented over a four-year period.  For next semester, tuition and fees will increase by $50 – less than a 1.5 percent increase given our current semester cost of $3,383 for tuition and fees.  In addition, we are creating a hardship fund for the coming year in collaboration with Associated Students – to ensure that no student has to leave San Diego State due to increased fees.  The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships will implement a “hardship exception” process, and non-state funds will be used to cover the fee for any students for whom the fee constitutes an undue hardship.  Moving forward, the Division of Academic Affairs will conduct student surveys and interviews on curricular and co-curricular needs that will guide and inform how the fee money is spent.  The Campus-Fee Advisory Committee will develop guidelines for the co-curricular process.

Our campus has had a robust discussion on the student success fee and many of the historical and policy issues that still arise from the Master Plan.  Three principles should guide our future discussions.

First, we must continue to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access to California’s universities.  San Diego State is a national leader in ensuring that students from all economic backgrounds succeed academically. We will continue to lead because this tenet is essential to the success of our society.

Second, we must recognize that the financing model can, and must, differ for students with different financial resources.  Some students and their families will finance their own educations.  Other students will rely on private scholarships. Still others will use a mix of private scholarships, government scholarships and loans.  A variety of models are possible and beneficial.

Third, there must be continued support for, and increases of, Pell grant and CAL grant scholarship programs from the federal and state governments.  Support of, and increased funding for, these programs will ensure the viability of a variety of financing models, as well as the rich socioeconomic diversity of our university.

There is, of course, a sense of sadness that the aspirational framework of the Master Plan faces continuing challenges.  The spirit of California is, however, innovative, and the same spirit that crafted the Master Plan can pursue new approaches.

Let’s move forward. There is much to do.


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