Over 50 trees, many of which were reported to be in bad health, were cleared to make way for the new Environmental Health and Safety facility, which will house hazardous waste created by the campus. Photo by Sean MacNaughton
Over 50 trees, many of which were reported to be in bad health, were cleared to make way for the new Environmental Health and Safety facility, which will house hazardous waste created by the campus. Photo by Sean MacNaughton

Andrew Austin, a UC Santa Cruz student, said he felt shocked when he received a text message over spring break saying 53 trees were cut down off of Heller Drive to make way for a new $20 million health and safety building.

“The school’s method of letting people know about [the new Environmental Health and Safety facility] basically kept it quietly public,” Austin said.

Though he was initially surprised, he said he’s neither for nor against the new Environmental Health and Safety facility — which will house chemical waste and low-level radioactive waste from research, lab work, campus maintenance, teaching and the art department. Austin is also a core member of the Campus Expansion Student Coalition, an unofficial student coalition that critiques the administration’s handling of campus expansion.

The building will consolidate the campus’s two facilities that currently hold chemical waste on Science Hill and at the base of campus. It’s planned to be about 5,200 square feet and will ensure the campus continues to adhere to state and federal laws regarding waste management, said Scott Hernandez-Jason, director of news and media relations at UCSC.

This project was first publicly mentioned in 2015, but it wasn’t until last April that the campus announced construction would start on the new facility within the year. The announcement did not include a specific date.

After the trees had been cleared for the project, the facility was re-announced on April 10 on the UCSC website. Out of the trees cleared, 38 were reported to be in poor health, Hernandez-Jason said.

California is the home of the redwood tree and, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, is the only place where redwoods thrive. An estimated 93 percent of old-growth redwoods have been lost to logging and development, while deforestation and land use change was responsible for more than 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions as of 2010.

“We have been trying to get word out about what is going on, obviously people have lots of information coming their way,” Hernandez-Jason said. “It is a very important facility given that it is crucial to support researchers in conducting all the important research that goes on here.”

The waste housed in this facility will be processed off-site. The sole function of this facility will be to temporarily house chemical and radioactive waste until licensed contractors collect it within 90 days. Annually, the campus produces less than 3 oz. of radioactive material that they use for research.

“The Environmental Health and Safety Facility will provide temporary waste holding and handling space, reduce hazardous waste and processing costs and help ensure continued compliance with state and federal regulations for the handling, storage and disposal of regulated waste,” Hernandez-Jason said in an email.

Austin said he needs to know more about the project in order to fully support it but that he, like many other students, was surprised UCSC would be putting funds into a waste holding facility at a time when students need housing.

“If community members knew that the only thing going on in campus construction was a $20 million building that had nothing to do with housing, they would be pretty upset. And some of them are,” Austin said.

Hernandez-Jason said the Environmental Health and Safety facility is in the scope of the 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and will provide institutional support to science and art departments that will rely on the functions of this facility. Multiple faculty members declined to comment on the subject.

The LRDP is a broad plan meant to outline potential for campus development if the campus needs to accommodate more students, faculty and staff. There are currently three undergraduate student representatives for the LRDP and one graduate student representative. In the faculty- and administration-dominated LRDP committee, land use and student needs are being discussed.

Max Jimenez, a student representative for the LRDP, said she also felt surprised when she heard the news of tree removal during spring break. Though it is the UCSC administration’s job to keep students informed about projects relating to campus expansion, Jimenez said the lack of student representation and transparency from UCSC has kept students in the dark about the construction of the new facility.

“I think that it’s definitely foreshadowing how the rest of development will go on, especially in these next crucial five years,” Jimenez said. “We will start to see a lot of changes and I have a feeling that if there is not a lot of student action and student push back, not from building, but from getting representation and transparency.”