Calaveras County has been without a community college for decades.
Although the northern half of the county is in the San Joaquin Delta College District and the southern half is in the Yosemite Community College District, residents for years have had to drive to Columbia or Stockton to attend classes.
But this is changing fast. Perhaps too fast.
Both college districts, flush with cash from bond issues passed two years ago, are planning satellite campuses in the long-ignored foothill county:
The Delta district has agreed to pay $1.4 million for 60 acres on Paloma Road in the Valley Springs area as the site of a future Calaveras County Foothills Education Center. Purchase is being made with proceeds from a $250 million bond issue passed by voters in 2004.
Columbia College, with proceeds from a $326 million bond issue passed by Yosemite District voters in 2004, is planning to open a satellite campus in the Angels Camp area. College trustees are now deciding which of two properties in the area will be home to the planned $10.5 million 19,500-square-foot center.
Some Columbia classes are already offered at the Glory Hole Center south of Angels Camp.
For Calaveras County residents, all this must be very flattering. It's like the ball's wallflower has suddenly become the focus of two handsome and very rich suitors.
This makes a great romantic tale, but in real life it could be costly and impractical. The money which may soon be lavished on Calaveras County, you see, will be paid in taxes.
Two colleges may be a feather in the cap of Calaveras County, which with a population of fewer than 50,000 is still one of California's smaller counties. But the still-new plans give rise to questions:
Wouldn't a single, centrally located campus in San Andreas, perhaps be a cheaper, more practical way to bring college classes to the people of Calaveras County?
Wouldn't it make more sense for the entire county to be in one district, which could then head up development of such a campus?
And would the taxpayers of either district be happy with a pair of multimillion dollar satellite campuses that offer many of the same courses and amenities?
The answers to the first two questions are probably yes.
But getting either Yosemite or Delta to give up tens of thousands of acres rich in both students and tax revenue in the interest of making Calaveras a one-district county is a long shot. So might be establishment of a campus in San Andreas, which itself is not a major population center.
And the desire of residents of both the populated Highway 4 corridor and of the fast-growing Valley Springs-Copperopolis areas to have a college campus nearby is understandable.
But, in answer to the third question, duplication makes no sense: If Calaveras County is to have two satellite campuses, they should offer differing classes and programs. The focus of one could be academics and the other, perhaps, vocational educational.
If each has its own specialities and concentration, the two campuses could together offer the students of Calaveras County a rich range of options and possibilities.
The key to making this happen is cooperation, coordination and communication between the two college districts. As plans that could shape the future of Calaveras County are already under way, that dialogue couldn't begin too soon.
Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior writer-columnist Chris Bateman.