Memories of SSU
Joseph A. Rattigan
State Senator 1958-1966
(Excerpted from an interview with Daniel Markwyn, April 12, May 3, May 10, August 16, 1991)
We had sites in four counties as a possible location for the new state college. In the summer of 1959, Dr. William Kortum came up with the Benson tract.
I was in a very delicate position of wanting a Sonoma County site but not wishing to express favoritism for any particular site. The Benson Ranch had a favorable position at that time because it was dead center in the rectangle that the Department of Education had proposed. I didn’t have any personal preference, expressed or otherwise, about any Santa Rosa site.
Everything happened at once in the 1960 Legislative session. First the Legislature was under call to consider higher education. A Master Plan report had been made. I supported the idea of a master plan for higher education. I did not have distinct preference either way as to whether it would result in constitutional autonomy and independence for the State College system or whether it would be done by statute, which it finally was. As a result, the State College system remained, generally, under the control of the Legislature.
By the time the 1960 first extraordinary session convened, the state college site in the North Bay counties still had not been picked. There was a meeting of some kind in which a real estate person said something to the effect that ”It’s all up to Senator Rattigan now. He’s out on a limb all by himself.” This was a plus and a minus as far as I was concerned. The negative part was that he was making it perfectly clear that if we didn’t get the college, who was going to be at fault? On the other hand, he was emphasizing the fact that it pretty much was up to me because it was a new game in which I was a new player from the beginning, and I had to be taken into account.
I was dealing with Democrats in Sacramento. It became a matter of partisan politics. It had to. That’s the way things happen. I was waiting for the Public Works Board to act and they did act at a meeting in Sacramento on March 2, 1960. They selected the so-called Benson Tract as the site. The site selection was a major step forward but the principal importance of it was that only then could I move with the bill.
I still did nothing in the Legislature immediately because I was waiting for the Master Plan, which had not yet been introduced. Senator Miller introduced Senate Bill 33 on March 8, 1960, which came to be known as the Master Plan, having in mind a comprehensive constitutional amendment as the principal vehicle. One week later, on March 15, I introduced Senate Bill 43, stating that in Sonoma County there is a state college known as Sonoma State College. Senate Bill 33 as amended, and Senate constitutional Amendment #1 were the Master Plan at that point in time. All the principal objectives of the Master Plan were eventually embodied in Senate Bill 33 to be enacted by statute as distinguished from a constitutional amendment.
Senate Bill 33, the Master Plan, was signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown on April 27 and became Chapter 49, Statutes of 1960 First Extraordinary Session. Senate Bill 43 was signed by Governor Brown on April 29 and became Chapter 66, Statutes of 1960 First Extraordinary Session. Sonoma State College had thus been established by law. It was under the umbrella of the Master Plan for Higher Education, as enacted by statute, because that measure provides, in explicit terms, that it affected state colleges heretofore or hereafter established by law.
There were a lot of disappointed people in Sonoma County. Many residents from Petaluma were disenchanted because the site was not selected in Petaluma. People from Santa Rosa were in the same situation as were other people who were interested in other sites. Orally and by letters I pointed out to people that I understood their disappointment, but that it was imperative that everybody cooperate and work together to realize what had been the objective of everyone: a state college in Sonoma County. All went fairly well. Some controversy developed in connection with the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College, which had been functioning for some years. Many people in Sonoma County became insistent that it be integrated into Sonoma State College, which, in a manner of speaking, finally happened.
I don’t remember the groundbreaking ceremony very well. It was what would now be described as a photo opportunity. As I recall, there were no speeches or invocations. We all went out, put on our hard hats, and broke ground. It was July 14, 1963, Bastille Day. It was very brief. There might have been an almost billboard-sized sign on the property, which said “Site of Sonoma State College. Senate Bill 43.” The Cotati people put it up, I’m sure. I got myself photographed in front of that sign in connection with my own campaign for re-election. After the ground breaking ceremony, we might have gone somewhere for lunch. I’m sure all the people were there that had been working hard for Sonoma State College, and the faculty. There was a good crowd there. I’ve followed the activities of the College closely, from the beginning. I think the place is just great.