UC Santa Cruz released its draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed Student Housing West (SHW) project on March 27. The report’s release created points of contention among the campus community as to how and where SHW will be built.

The report, conducted by the third-party group Impact Sciences, provides preliminary assessment of environmental impacts including water use, aesthetic, air quality and cultural resources among 11 other categories. The draft includes assessment of the proposed project and alternatives under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines. This must be approved by the UC regents before development. If approved, only a lawsuit or admin approval can halt the project.

Developing Student Housing West

The EIR draft’s primary proposal is for SHW to be built over two sites as the alternatives fail to meet requirements, including necessary housing expansion. The sites are located on Heller Drive at the current site of Family Student Housing (FSH) and on the East Meadow at the intersection of Hagar and Coolidge drives.

The EIR draft also includes environmental impacts of the expansion of Porter and Rachel Carson College dining halls, which is also included in the SHW development plan. The new FSH at the East Meadow will also include a child care facility with the capacity to provide care for employees’ children as well as students’ children which it currently does. The whole project would be completed within the next five years.

SHW was initially slated to be built entirely at the current FSH location, and the East Meadow plan originally was an alternative proposal submitted by Capstone Development Partners, with which UCSC entered a public–private partnership (P3) to complete the project. After being told by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the original plans threatened the habitat of the California red-legged frog and had to be changed, UCSC decided to adopt Capstone’s alternative proposal to build in East Meadow.

“The new housing communities will help return some of the current lounge and study space that had been converted to bedrooms back to community space, which is critical for student success,” said Sarah Latham, Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services in an email. “It will also create additional space for students living off campus and who have not been able to get space on campus.”

The need for more on-campus housing comes with mandates from the UC Office of the President and Gov. Jerry Brown to enroll 10,000 more students across the UC between 2016 and 2020. This is coupled with city pressure on UCSC to house a significant portion of its students.

In response to the 2005 LRDP, the City of Santa Cruz sued UCSC over the effect more students would have on housing, water and traffic. A settlement was reached in 2008 requiring UCSC to house 67 percent of new student enrollment during the life of the LRDP, which sunsets in 2020. SHW will provide UCSC with a net increase of 2,852 student beds in seven apartment buildings.

The 2005 Long-Range Development Plan previously designated the East Meadow, the main site of contention, as campus resource land to be maintained as is for future use. Because UCSC has decided to develop that land, it requires an additional environmental review and an amendment to the 2005 LRDP.

Aesthetic Concerns

Though development is often seen as the best way to alleviate housing constraints, there is pushback against the East Meadow site because its aesthetic isn’t consistent with the campus’s historic environmentally conscious design, and because the site was chosen relatively quickly, among other reasons.

UCSC was designed to sit in the ecotone — the transition space between two biomes — of the forest and meadow with architecture that works harmoniously with the nature, said James Clifford, professor emeritus of history of consciousness and East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC) organizer.

“This campus is a powerful aesthetic experience, that goes from feelings about being deep in the forest to then being on top of this high hill looking out over these vast views,” Clifford said. “It’s that alternation that is so special about our campus, and the meadow is part of that.”

According to the draft EIR, construction on the East Meadow would have a significant and unavoidable effect on the visual character of the site.

The only other significant and unavoidable effects of SHW development were increased noise levels and water and utility use, according to the draft EIR. The west campus site will partially use recycled water but water use impact will be inevitable, regardless of where development is located.

In response to the announcement that UCSC would develop the East Meadow, concerned faculty and alumni formed the EMAC to organize against its development through education and a petition that’s garnered about 1,200 signatures so far, while another petition with the same goal by alumnus Michael Gerber has over 45,000.

“Building in the meadow is not just an expedient way of completing a project, but actually is a revolutionary change in the whole design strategy of the campus that has been sustained for more than 50 years,” James Clifford said. “If you’re going to take that kind of radical step, it better be worth it.”

EMAC is demanding UCSC admin choose a development alternative that wouldn’t decrease the amount of beds built and would leave the East Meadow in its current condition. UCSC administrators’ main concern with other possibilities, for example toward the north of campus, is the cost of initial infrastructure.

Capstone and UCSC admin determined the East Meadow location was the best location for FSH because there’s better construction access and it’s more convenient for families to have the child care center close to an entrance.

UCSC is now collecting feedback for the final EIR via two public comment meetings held in May. The final EIR, including public comments and admin responses, will be presented to the UC Regents, who have final say in design approval, in July.

The draft EIR can be found at the Physical Planning and Construction website: https://ppc.ucsc.edu/planning/EnvDoc.html

To provide feedback on the draft EIR, attend one of the two information and public comment meetings, which will be held on May 2 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Louden Nelson Center, and on May 3 from 5-7 p.m. at the Cultural Center at Merrill College.

OR submit written comments via email to eircomment@ucsc.edu. The public review period closes on May 11 at 5 p.m.