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University's long-range plan a bad deal for Santa Cruz all the way around

Jeffrey Charest
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/3/12

I am with Teach The Forest, a UC Santa Cruz student and Santa Cruz resident group opposing the UCSC Long Range Development Plan to build 3,000,000 square feet of new campus buildings on 240 acres of the upper campus currently designated as Natural Reserve land.

The LRDP must be approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission, whose mission, in part, is to "discourage urban sprawl" and "preserve open space and prime agricultural lands." Since 2005, LAFCO has repeatedly made UCSC amend the LRDP into a sustainable plan, and it still has not met LAFCO's conditions.

The UCSC administration maintains that this expansion is necessary. They claim they have no choice but to admit more students and would expand regardless; that the LRDP would have minimal impacts on local water supplies and environment; that the LRDP will prevent the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 extra students from flooding local rental markets; and that the LRDP will increase the availability of higher education to low-income students.

However, the university worked with the Santa Cruz City Council to incorporate the development area into the city Water Department in order to draw directly on city water resources. Though UCSC made payments to the city to offset costs as part of the water neutrality policy, if they go over their 206 million gallons per year allotment, the city itself will have to enact greater water-conservation measures, and residents will have to foot the bill.

The Community Water Coalition has cited plentiful research that shows that even in nondrought years Santa Cruz water supplies are stretched. A drought of even two years would likely push it over its limits. This issue also forms one of the driving forces behind the push for the controversial desalination plant.

The LRDP will also destroy the natural seepage and water table of its site, affecting the neighborhoods around the university, some of which still rely on wells. Additionally it will destroy the habitat, home to various flora and fauna on the Federal Endangered Species list, an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed by the university.

Finally, in the midst of the UC system's fiscal crisis, the university has cut academic programs and positions, and made its students shoulder a large part of the financial burden. Yet it also will begin demolishing 199 family student housing units with no place to house these families until it completes the LRDP. To fund the plan, UCSC will have to go into debt at a time when it cannot fund important segments of its own academic programs, all in the name of growth.

UCSC "drew hints" at costly lawsuits against LAFCO when its own director moved to "require LAFCO review of future university growth plans," and worked with the Santa Cruz City Council to move the LRDP area outside of LAFCO's jurisdiction altogether. Essentially, UCSC wants to be able to expand without any oversight from, or accountability to the Santa Cruz community.

Teach The Forest urges all concerned Santa Cruz residents and students alike to attend the next LAFCO hearing at 10 a.m. on June 6 at the County Governmental center at 701 Ocean St., Room 525, and convince LAFCO to make UCSC rethink this project and develop a truly sustainable growth plan. Instead of destroying and draining existing economic, social, and environmental resources, why not reinvest in what it, and we, already have?

Jeffrey Charest is an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz.

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