Illustration by Leigh Douglas

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) cancelled the public hearing of UC Santa Cruz’s application for the development of North Campus that was scheduled for Monday, December 3 at 9:30 a.m.

The hearing was cancelled due to the outcome of the state appeals court’s examination of the City of Santa Cruz’s Environmental Impact Report for the development of North Campus. The court ruled that it was inadequate on the grounds that it did not provide enough alternatives to the development plan.

“The state law requires an Environmental Impact Report to contain a series of alternatives to the actual project that is proposed to be built,” said Patrick McCormick, LAFCO’s executive officer. “A group sued, and the court found that there were not enough alternatives in the Environmental Impact Report, and therefore the document was defective. Therefore LAFCO doesn’t have an adequate basis to go forward with its decision.”

Both the city and the university had to submit applications to LAFCO in order to extend city services to the area of North Campus that is set aside for development in the Long Range Development Plan.

The city and the university have a mutual interest in developing North Campus. While the University of California has an obligation to provide more students with housing for their education, said Jim Burns, the director of public information at UCSC, the city is interested in having less students housed off campus due to traffic and water usage concerns.

“Housing students on campus would inherently have a positive effect on traffic, housing, neighborhoods and in fact have a positive effect on per capita water use,” Burns said. “Students living on campus uses less water than students living off campus. It has to do with denser housing, and that the landscaping can be done more efficiently.“

The group that sued is the local, informal group called Habitat and Watershed Caretakers, McCormick said. Such local groups have expressed concern over the impact that campus expansion would have on the city’s already limited water sources. The court’s decision implicates the pertinence of these concerns in the state of California.

“If the city and university decide to fix the Environmental Impact Report and bring it back to us,” McCormick said, “it will have more information about an alternative that would reduce the impact of the additional demand for water on the city.”

As the mediator, LAFCO takes a neutral stance in the debate.

“We are a hearing body,” McCormick said. “We haven’t made our decision. We were not on the university side, we weren’t on the environmentalist side, during litigation. We’re just observers at this point.”

A public hearing will take place if the city amends its application such that it provides additional alternatives to the original plan, and if the court deems these alternatives to be adequate.

“We don’t agree with the court,” Burns said, “and at this point in time we’re consulting with the city to determine what we do next.”