We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki has scrapped high-profile plans for a 10,000-seat outdoor pavilion project at the campus’ Green Music Center, a move she framed as a bid to save money better spent on academic programs and the needs of students and faculty.

Sakaki said she decided to halt the project, which was put in motion by the university’s previous administration, after consulting with a range of stakeholders, including student and faculty leadership and the California State University Chancellor’s Office. She determined the $145 million music center’s existing facilities were sufficient and the campus did not need the pavilion, which she said would have cost roughly $10.6 million to build.

Sakaki, who took over as president of the Rohnert Park campus in July, called the move “the most important, difficult decision I’ve made since I assumed the presidency.”

“The concern was, as we look at what our students need — what the campus needs — in terms of focusing on student success and improving our graduation rate, and making sure that, academically, we have the faculty that we need to teach the classes to get students through, to offer the support services and student support services that we need to be successful, we really had to take a hard look at our priorities,” Sakaki said.

The decision is consistent with the academics- and student-focused agenda Sakaki has rolled out since she took the helm of the university.

Envisioned as an expansive outdoor amphitheater on the Green Music Center’s eastern side, the pavilion had backing from MasterCard and was intended to offer space for events that couldn’t fit inside the 1,400-seat Weill Hall and adjoining lawn, which has space for an additional 4,000 people.

Groundwork on the area, near Petaluma Hill Boulevard, had begun but was halted. Recently, crews have begun restoring the area as an open lawn.

MasterCard pledged $6 million for the project, but Sakaki said that money would not have come until after the facility was built and the university would still be responsible for operating costs.

The MasterCard money has not been forfeited and the university’s discussions with the company are ongoing, according to Sakaki. She did not divulge specifics but said the university was looking to partner with MasterCard in other ways. The company is the title sponsor of an annual performance series at the Green Music Center, which begins its 2016-17 season Saturday.

Sakaki’s decision to drop the pavilion project — first reported by the Sonoma State Star student newspaper — represents an about-face from a vision advanced by the administration of her predecessor, longtime SSU president Ruben Armiñana. Sakaki declined to say whether she consulted with Armiñana prior to making her call. She described her decision-making process as “really thorough and consultative.”

Armiñana could not be reached Thursday and Friday for comment. One of his top officials, Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, the recently departed vice president of administration and finance, voiced disappointment the project had been canceled. At Sonoma State, Furukawa-Schlereth also served as co-executive director of the Green Music Center. He said no one from the current administration consulted him about the decision.

Yet faculty have embraced the move, according to Ben Ford, a mathematics professor and chair of the university’s Academic Senate. Ford said Sakaki told the Academic Senate of her decision about the pavilion at a meeting in September.

In six strong El Niño seasons since the 1950s, Santa Rosa has twice received below average rainfall and four times had above average precipitation. The city’s 30-year rainfall average is 32.2 inches.

Rain season; Inches of rain
1997-98; 54.25
1987-88; 22.10
1982-83; 55.66
1972-73; 42.99
1965-66; 25.13
1957-58; 45.55

Santa Rosa's rainfall totals for the last four seasons, which run from Jul 1 to June 30, are:

2013-14; 14.57
2012-13; 26.47
2011-12; 22.29
2010-11; 39.31

“I think most people, I included, saw it as additional confirmation of the president’s clear focus on the student experience here and their educational and student services needs,” Ford said. “Given that there was not an obvious academic use of the facility, it was a decision welcomed by most faculty.”

Ford said the university did not need a larger performance venue. He said his priorities for the university included rebuilding the ranks of permanent faculty and investing in student services and faculty professional development aimed at closing student achievement gaps.

The Santa Rosa Symphony, the Green Music Center’s resident orchestra, won’t be affected by the lack of an outdoor pavilion there, said Executive Director Alan Silow. The symphony would have considered possibly using the pavilion had the project gone forward, Silow said, but he said it was “never going to affect what we do, and will do, at the Green Music Center.”

Furukawa-Schlereth, the former SSU vice president, now with the CSU Chancellor’s Office, said an outdoor pavilion was long envisioned as part of the Green Music Center, which debuted in 2012.

He said the venue would have brought large performances that don’t do well in a concert hall like Weill Hall. That would have been appealing to students and others, he said.

“At the moment, there really isn’t a large, outdoor venue north of the Golden Gate Bridge that can present those types of performances,” said Furukawa-Schlereth. “It would enrich the cultural life of the community by diversifying the types of performances that the Green Music Center can do.”

But Sakaki, previously a vice president of student affairs for the University of California system, said she had not been able to find any complete marketing and business plan for the pavilion project. And she was optimistic about the future of the university’s relationship with MasterCard.

“I’m very interested in student success and academic initiatives,” Sakaki said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean a new building.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

Show Comment