By Melody Parker
Though some say expansion is inevitable, others believe growth will change the integrity of UC Santa Cruz indefinitely.
UCSC’s 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) will potentially develop up to 120 acres of university land for the construction of classrooms, housing facilities, and a large recreation center.
The LRDP has sparked an uproar from some students, faculty, and city officials who either oppose the planning process, or oppose the blueprints of the plan itself. And this opposition won’t waiver anytime soon. A handful of anti-LRDP activists remain perched in redwood trees on Science Hill at the site of the planned biomedical sciences building, after almost a month of protest.
This has become an increasingly sensitive topic on campus, with university officials claiming that they are trying to take all of the necessary precautions to avoid harmful environmental impacts. Some students, staff, and faculty, however, contest that the minimum mitigations required by law fall short of the bar for one of the most stunning, environmentally friendly campuses in the country.
One of the 14 lawsuits brought by the city against the LRDP is currently in litigation because Judge Paul Burdick ruled that UCSC must change the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to properly mitigate for water, traffic, and housing problems that would inevitably arise given the current plans for expansion.
“The campus has to do an EIR for most buildings,” said Dr. Karen Holl, a restoration ecologist, UCSC professor, and LRDP committee member. But when buildings are only measured individually, “then cumulative impacts are not looked at in as much detail,” she said.
But Dean Fitch, senior planner and landscape architect for UCSC Campus Planning, said that the LRDP is not yet set in stone, and that there is still room for changes to be made to the expansion process.
He reiterated this point when he spoke to a restoration ecology class on campus Nov. 14. “The LRDP is essentially a framework … about growth or no growth, buildings or no buildings … it provides some flexibility for decisions to be made in the future,” he said.
He spoke of various features of growth that he and his coworkers have taken into account to draft a plan for expansion. “We implement a systems approach, so we aren’t just mitigating for one species,” he said. “We have to think about orientation and aspect of a building, slope, geology … [plant and animal] species with special statuses … and what it means for the rest of campus,” he added.
According to Fitch, the LRDP designates approximately 60-65 percent of the development to infill, which refers to developing the spaces between buildings so that more areas with large-scale ecosystems can be left undisturbed.
Holl defended Fitch at the Nov. 14 lecture by saying that the pressure to build is coming from the Regents and the State of California, not from individuals like Fitch.
She explained that UCSC Campus Planning is not responsible for whether or not development happens, but how it happens.
“I would prefer that the university didn’t expand, but I also recognize that UC needs to provide opportunities to the students of California,” Holl said. She emphasized that if there is no way around expansion, that it should be done in a way that is environmentally sensitive.
“I’m an advocate of infill and building on a parking lot and taking down trees that are third-growth rather than fragmenting intact habitat,” she said in reference to the proposed biomedical sciences facility, the first building to be erected on campus with an EIR that falls under the jurisdiction of the new 2005 LRDP.
According to one anti-LRDP activist, “They are picking the most environmentally [degradating] plan [in order] to conserve the look of the campus,” said Amy, who wished only to be referred to by her first name.
Earlier development options included Lower Campus, which encompasses the lower meadows and East Field.
But in an interview with City on a Hill Press, Fitch said that “ultimately the plan that evolved really minimized what kind of development opportunities [would be available] in the lower meadows.” He added that during LRDP committee discussions there was a strong sentiment about these views and aesthetics.
Holl, however, said that these areas have relatively low biodiversity. She said that there is not a significant argument to conserve the East Field, other than that there is a very big issue with obstructing the panoramic view.
The opposition to developing Upper Campus has more legitimacy, according to Holl, in the fact that it holds numerous seep zones, or wetland habitat that are sensitive to disturbances.
This also makes developing these zones a more arduous task.
The Campus Planning team has assisted the project’s designers to incorporate strategies for karst geology on Central and Lower Campus (karst is a system of solution cavities underneath the ground surface). These caverns are formed by limestone and marble that has been dissolved in groundwater. In order to stabilize the foundation of a building, compaction grouting — which Fitch explained is injecting concrete grout into the ground to densify the soil — is sometimes used to improve the bearing capacity of such unstable ground.
But this method also fills the soft crevices of the karst, killing soil organisms and potentially disrupting the quality of underground water.
Fitch said that this is one such design feature within mitigation.
Mitigation lends itself to a sense of stewardship, as if repairing the environment, but it can also lead to overexcavation, which means digging topsoil from the ground to level the foundation for a building.
But buildings aren’t the only problem with expansion; campus development will cause erosion problems simply because of the increase of foot traffic along trails.
“As you pave more surfaces there is less percolation [into soils] and you have increased runoff … which causes erosion in a lot of our drainages. The goal is to try to minimize that by metering the flow, but there have been problems with that in the past,” Holl said.
“Essentially, what we do is mitigate the peak flows to pre-development levels so we develop detention basins [for storm water] … the campus does that regularly with all projects,” she added.
According to section 4.6 of the EIR for the LRDP, underground stream channels have been damaged by erosion and sedimentation on off-campus lands and more strain is put on the system with increased runoff.
“There are a number of failed mitigation projects on campus, which is where some of our drainage problems are coming from,” Holl said.
Sally Morgan has been the senior environmental planner for UCSC for two and a half years, and is not aware of any unsuccessful development projects with unanticipated impacts.
“It’s impossible to do any kind of development without having some impacts. It’s just the nature of development. You are going to have to cut down trees or you are going to have to use water or energy,” Morgan said.
However, she feels that the university is not getting enough recognition for its water efficiency. She mentions how the school is only using six percent of the entire system, and this level would only go up by two percent after development, according to conservative estimates of the EIR.
Those that oppose the LRDP would prefer that there is little to no development in order to protect the integrity of the unique campus. “If you do cut down the trees, where are they going to go?” questioned student Lance Durell. “I think they should stay here to make a college, and call it ‘Redwood College.’”