Business & Real Estate

Buyer of Placer Ranch opts out; Eli Broad steps back in

Los Angeles businessman Eli Broad, pictured in 2006, regained control of the Placer Ranch property after a development company backed out of a project, complicating plans to build a major college campus on the land.
Los Angeles businessman Eli Broad, pictured in 2006, regained control of the Placer Ranch property after a development company backed out of a project, complicating plans to build a major college campus on the land. Associated Press file

The development company that bought the massive Placer Ranch property two years ago has backed out of the project and returned control of the 2,200-acre parcel to Los Angeles developer and philanthropist Eli Broad, complicating plans to build a major college campus on the land.

Westpark Communities of Roseville said Tuesday it has withdrawn its development application and returned the property to Broad.

The decision has implications for California State University, Sacramento, and Sierra College, both of which agreed last fall to collaborate on a 300-acre satellite campus at Placer Ranch. A representative of Broad, who initially promoted the idea of a satellite college campus on the property north of Roseville and west of Rocklin, said he is considering his options for the land.

“While we are disappointed, Mr. Broad remains a huge supporter of public education and we will be discussing this with Sacramento State and Sierra College and determining our options to move forward,” said Holly Tiche, president of a Broad company called Placer Ranch Inc., in a prepared statement.

Kirk Uhler, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, said, “This is a huge disappointment, not only for Placer County but for the whole region.” He said the county is eager to have the college campus project move forward, if possible.

Uhler said he believes Westpark pulled out of the project because of “the CEQA process, litigation threats.” CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act, which has been criticized by business leaders and some elected officials as a major impediment to development.

Westpark bought the property two years ago and revived the satellite campus idea, which had lain dormant for several years after the real estate market collapsed. The company planned to develop much of the property as a mixed-use project, with offices, retail, industrial and residential, and donate the 300 acres for the college campus.

Sacramento State officials quickly warmed to the idea, saying the Placer campus could some day accommodate 25,000 students, rivaling the main campus in Sacramento.

Westpark on Tuesday said its financial backer pulled the plug on the Placer Ranch plan.

“Our primary financial partners have revised their investment strategies and made the difficult decision to discontinue their involvement in the Placer Ranch project,” the company said in a prepared statement. “As a result, we will be transferring the property back to the prior owner. We are very hopeful that Placer Ranch and the planned Sacramento State campus ... will continue to move forward and build on the momentum that has been created over the last two years.”

Sacramento State spokesman Phil Garcia issued an emailed statement Tuesday saying the school remains committed “to the long-term vision for a campus” in southern Placer County.

“We look forward to once again working with Eli Broad in this endeavor,” the statement said.

A Westpark spokesman, Bill Halldin, said the company wouldn’t discuss details of the sale back to Broad.

Placer Ranch has long been controversial. When Broad first launched the idea of a Sacramento State campus in 2003, environmentalists and some county officials complained that he was offering the campus plan as a way to defuse opposition to the main project; the northern edge of Placer Ranch is close to a landfill.

Placer County officials have been trying to recruit a major college campus for years. At one point, the county was in discussions with land baron Angelo K. Tsakopoulos to build a campus for Philadelphia’s Drexel University near Roseville. Drexel wound up taking space in a Tsakopoulos office building in Old Sacramento but announced in March it would wind down operations.

Meanwhile, the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, said in February it plans to build a major campus on land outside Roseville donated by a partnership that includes the Tsakopoulos family. The project is expected to take years to come to fruition.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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