By Lisa Donchak

Last week, construction officially began with a formal ground-breaking ceremony for the Ranch View Terrace Project, which will provide additional housing for faculty and staff.

The two-phase project will provide 84 units, each with three or four bedrooms, near the base of campus as part of the Long Range Development Plan [LRDP]. Construction of the first 45 units should be completed by Fall of 2008, according to Steve Houser, assistant director for Faculty and Staff Housing.

“We’re trying to deliver 45 at [first], to make sure we’re not overbuilding,” Houser said. The remaining 39 units should be completed by Fall 2009, although the timing will depend on the response to the first phase.

The units will cost between $479,000 and $655,000, a figure much lower than the average construction projects on Santa Cruz’s west side, which run at about $844,000.

Despite its proximity to the new construction, UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems [CASFS] has embraced the project.

Jim Leap, farm manager at CASFS, said, “There will be no effect to the work that we’re doing or to the farming. The main effect will just be the noise and dust from construction.”

According to Leap, CASFS has known about the project “since conception.” In the interim, the farm used about three to four acres for cropping, knowing that they will have to give up that land when the project gets under way.

“It was never very productive land,” Leap said. According to Leap, the administration at the time recognized that CASFS was going to have to give up the borrowed land and agreed to give CASFS two separate parcels of land to compensate.

Leap was happy with the exchange overall.

“We borrowed this land, lost it because of Ranch View Terrace, and were granted more land that is much better in terms of soil quality and location,” Leap said. “We came out really good on the deal.”

But some critics of the project see few reasons to proceed with construction.

“The university has never justified the construction of these houses,” Hal Levin, who called the project an “environmental travesty,” said in an e-mail. Levin, a member of the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion [CLUE], said these were his own views and he was not speaking for CLUE.

“Single-family homes of 1,750 to 2,100 square feet can hardly be considered ‘sustainable,’” Levin said. He also said that with those prices, the units “amount to little more than perks for administrators,” and will do little to help recruit junior faculty, who tend to have lower salaries.

According to Houser, “For most people coming to campus, two-bedroom units just aren’t appropriate. We just don’t have anything in our existing inventory that meets that need.” According to the UCSC faculty housing website, there are currently 143 for-sale units on campus and 200 people are on the waiting list for new homes.

The homes will be built with standards for energy and water conservation. Buyers may choose to include other energy-efficient options as well.

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal expressed excitement about the construction during a March 9 Academic Senate meeting. “I look forward to [having] some breathing room for faculty housing.”