The KZSC Radio Station and the Cantú Queer Center sit atop wooden poles behind Crown and Merrill colleges. The buildings were deemed unsafe in case of an earthquake after the Loma Prieta Earthquake 30 years ago and have not been renovated since. Photo by Josephine Joliff

After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake rattled Santa Cruz and surrounding cities, UC Santa Cruz prioritized the retrofitting of on-campus buildings deemed unsafe. Thirty years later, KZSC and the Lionel Cantú Queer Center are still waiting for their buildings to be renovated.

 A 2005 survey showed seismic activity could put the buildings at risk for catastrophic damage. Despite this analysis, plans for relocation are not progressing — they lack construction drafts and about $5 million in funding.

Educational Resources in Dangerous Buildings

“It’s a life and safety concern,” said Keith Rozendal, the broadcast adviser for KZSC. “Essentially our building is hanging on by these pillars. It is really unstable.”

The two buildings sit on wooden poles lodged in a steep hill behind UCSC’s Crown and Merrill colleges. During the rainy season, water saturates the support poles and soil below, adding to the buildings’ instability.

A 2017 Business Case Analysis (BCA) conducted by the university rated the two buildings as “poor” in regards to seismic ratings, meaning both are susceptible to risk in the event of an earthquake. 

“Our buildings are some of the original buildings on campus. […] To this day, the space has remained structurally untouched,” said Travis Becker, director of the Cantú. “I don’t want to paint a picture that the Cantú Queer Center is completely unsafe. However personally, as the director […] with the responsibility of protecting the students and staff, I do not think it is safe.”

This school year alone, the Cantú reported a leaking roof multiple times and was forced to temporarily shut down its food pantry due to a rodent infestation. In addition, Becker is displeased with the building’s location atop the notorious “cardio hill” — a moniker given to the steep hill leading to Crown College. He would prefer a building with a more accessible and inviting environment.

“This campus deserves a really badass queer and trans resource center that would cultivate brilliant queer and trans leadership,” Becker said.

KZSC’s radio production class also bears the brunt of structural concerns. Due to safety and size issues, the station uses classrooms around campus instead of the station building to teach students radio production. This quarter, the station is using Social Sciences 1 in addition to classrooms at Crown and Merrill colleges and a space under the Cantú. 

“We don’t use the actual station anymore,” said fourth-year student and station training class instructor Melissa Cabrera. “We would love to have our own classroom.” 

The Financial Roadblock

The initial plan for KZSC, called Seismic Corrections Phase 2A, consisted of retrofitting the current building. It was quickly disregarded after considering the cost to do so.

“[The university] did a rough estimate of how to fix it in place […] like putting in bracing and enclosing the bottom floor,” Rozendal said. “However, we and the school decided that it was quite a lot to put into a building and not get anything more modern out of it.”

The university presented a $10 million estimate for retrofitting costs — not accounting for building expansion or modernization, Rozendal said. Campus administration and KZSC then decided to instead allocate $10 million as a down payment for a brand new building. City on a Hill Press could not corroborate these numbers through documents.

With this decision, changes to KZSC’s structure shifted to Phase 2B of the seismic plan. 

The university instated the 2005 Seismic Corrections Phase 2B plan to continue correcting structural deficiencies across campus. The plan proposed updates to the Cardiff House Women’s Center, the Cowell Student Health Center, Field House West, Stone House, Student Union and the Student Union Redwood Building. All had been deemed “poor” in seismic ratings.

The $8.25 million plan — funded in part by $5.05 million worth of student fees — considered retrofitting the KZSC station and the Cantú. However, the university chose to first focus on rebuilding the Student Union, the Redwood Buildings and the Cardiff House. Since Phase 2B began, KZSC and the Cantú buildings remained untouched. As the last two projects remaining, their renovation attempts are stuck at a bureaucratic and financial standstill.

In the university’s most recent proposal from September 2017, UCSC officials agreed a new building is optimal and more cost-effective. The plan would house KZSC and the Cantú together under a three-story building near Crown Circle. KZSC would occupy the bottom two floors, with Cantú residing on the top floor.

The new building is estimated to cost about $18 million, according to the Seismic Corrections Phase 2B plan. Despite the possibility of the university’s $10 million down payment, construction won’t progress until KZSC raises funds of about $2.4 million and Cantú funds an additional estimated $2.4 million for new building costs, said Rozendal and Becker. The station and center are now working with University Relations and the Division of Student Success to find donors to raise the necessary funds.

University Relations and the Division of Student Success did not respond to requests for comment on the state of the building proposals by time of press.

With hopes for a new building, the opportunity to expand and modernize has resulted in a fluctuation between enthusiasm and frustration. The Cantú desires a larger lounge space, food pantry and clothing exchange closet, as well as more closed-door offices. KZSC wants an in-building classroom and modernized wiring. KZSC staff, such as third-year hip-hop director Rizal Aliga, also hope for space to host live performances.

“I’m excited for the move. […] Other UC campuses such as UCLA and UCI have a place in their radio stations for live bands to perform, and I’m hoping that with this move we get space for that as well,” Aliga said.

Frustrations With the Rebuilding Process

Both KZSC and Cantú are frustrated by the lack of communication with the university and the burden of gathering funds for a new building. About two years ago, KZSC felt misdirected by the promise of a new building. A KZSC volunteer  begun packing the studio’s infamous poster collection when KZSC leadership halted the process, due to the lack of a new building.

“We have over 80 people on staff, and we come together quarterly for meetings. Everyone was confused on why we had stopped the move,” said KZSC station manager Maelin Rose. “People were and still are feeling left out of the loop.”

The Cantú has faced similar confusion with the university throughout the building proposal  process. Becker entered his position three years ago amid the retrofitting situation and has worked alongside University Relations to fundraise since. 

“I did not come from a world of fundraising or major gifts,” Becker said. “Being asked to raise funds when I am one of the lowest paid LGBTQIA+ directors in the UC system is a very high demand.”

In a Student Media press conference on Tuesday, City on a Hill Press asked Chancellor George Blumenthal about building plans. 

“We have talked about [retrofitting] in the past, but I’m not sure what the immediate situation is,” Blumenthal said. “To be honest with you, we have been so focused on Student Housing West and Kresge College that I’ve lost track on what’s going on with that situation […] We do recognize the need to move those resources at some point in the future.” 

Despite frustration with the process, both parties praised the current leadership of University Relations and their dedication to the long term goal of providing them with a seismically safe and modern building. Becker remarked that prior leadership slacked in finding the necessary funds, causing Becker, Rozendal, and all UCSC personal involved to play “catch-up”.

“The station is our home,” Maelin Rose said, “despite the fact that it is currently  unsafe.”