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UCSC Revises East Meadow Student Housing Plan

Public outcry leads to some changes, but Blumenthal to push ahead on construction

UCSC is growing, but the university is reducing the size of one major development.

After increased pressure and feedback from the alumni foundation, faculty, and students, UCSC has issued a revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and updates to the proposed Student Housing West development project to create over 3,000 new bed spaces on campus between its Hagar and Heller sites.

Chiefly, the average height of the six buildings at the West Campus Heller site will be reduced by 20 percent, and the buildings slated for the East Meadow Hagar site will be reduced to lessen the effect on visibility from afar, though the buildings and layout will remain the same.

This comes as somewhat good news to those who have rallied against East Meadow development, as the buildings will be less visible from both the road and from higher on campus, according to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal. But ultimately, despite a 72,000-signature petition, faculty and alumni protests, development in the East Meadow will continue, he says.

“I have no desire to build on the East Meadow. I never woke up in the morning and thought, ‘I just have to build on the East Meadow,’ and I have sympathy for those who want to protect it,” Blumenthal says. “On the other hand, there is a major housing crisis on campus and in Santa Cruz. This project is not about university growth, this is about housing the students we already have.”

UCSC currently houses more than half of its students on campus. The development of Student Housing West has nothing to do with future enrollment of students, despite the 10,000-student increase that UC officials have mandated over the next 20 years. It’s an immediate solution to alleviate current university pressures on the housing market in Santa Cruz.

“It is interesting to me that I do sense a generational thing here, I think generally younger people—faculty and alums—are much more positive about this project than the older faculty and alums,” Blumenthal says. “The viewpoints of campus have been such a big part of campus since it inception, so I understand how it undermines the essence of UCSC, and sympathize with that to some extent.”

The Hagar family-student housing will have 140 new housing units specifically for students with children. Blumenthal highlighted the new child-care center, which is the first of its kind on campus that serves the children of faculty, staff and students. He says that because of the childcare and family student housing, the site needs to be near the campus entrance and other employee housing.

“The Hagar site is just across the street from staff housing, so it isn’t as though we are creating housing on campus where there was no housing before,” he says. “More housing is right there.”

The Heller site buildings will house over 2,900 upper-division undergraduates and graduate students, and since the overall height of the buildings will be reduced, the ratio of singles has decreased from the original 70 percent single and 30 percent shared to 53 percent single and 47 percent shared. UCSC has a historical pattern of turning doubles to triples or quads in response to increased student numbers, sparking criticism from students whose living conditions worsened as a result. Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services Sarah Latham says that this time the rooms have been designed with potential increases in mind to lessen the effects of future increased students, as well as including new units unique to Student Housing West.

“I feel very positive about the quality of unit configurations, anything that is currently a triple or could become a triple is being sized with that in mind,” Latham says. “The number of bathrooms and size of the rooms was taken into account, whereas in other established residences it was not.”

After switching locations from the Porter Meadow last year due to a potentially threatened red-legged frog, UCSC plans for on campus housing expansion have come under fire for proposing development in the East Meadow. Many alumni have expressed the importance of the East Meadow as not only an iconic part of campus, but also essential to maintaining the vision of the founders and overall appeal.

The university has come under fire for their choice of construction company. Sundt Construction, who as of last spring was spearheading the project, was involved in the construction of Japanese-American relocation camps in New Mexico and Arizona during World War II. As of earlier this year, Sundt was also vying to win the contract for building President Donald Trump’s Mexican border wall.

It isn’t clear if Sundt will remain on the project, Hernandez-Jason could say only that “we are using multiple construction firms to deliver the project.”

UCSC plans to take the project to the UC Board of Regents for approval in January 2019. Following months of meetings with community members, advisory boards and the alumni foundation, UCSC has announced another series of meetings to get feedback on the updated EIR. The EIR is available online, and will undergo a 45-day public review period, ending Nov. 1. The meetings are as follows: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23. Louden Nelson Community Center. 301 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. 5 p.m. Oct. 24 Kresge Town Hall at UCSC.

For more information visit ucsc.edu/shw.

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