In the News

UCSC chancellor says town-gown good will on line:
Blumenthal warns LAFCO not to overstep power on campus growth

By J.M. BROWN, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/6/11

SANTA CRUZ -- UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal has warned officials charged with deciding whether the university can use more city water that proposed constraints on campus growth are unacceptable and, if approved, could jeopardize a landmark agreement to house more students on campus.

In a letter to the Local Agency Formation Commission, Blumenthal has outlined his opposition to several conditions recommended by the agency's staff for approval of applications filed by the university and city for extended water and sewer service. The service would support new student housing in a north campus area not currently within the city's service boundary, which is why LAFCO has jurisdiction over the matter.

The conditions Blumenthal objects to include a requirement that UCSC return to LAFCO if campus growth is projected to exceed 19,500 students, a level agreed by the city, university, county and citizen groups.

Blumenthal, who helped broker the 2008 deal that avoided costly lawsuits, argues that LAFCO doesn't have the authority to constrain the university -- either through enrollment settings or utility extensions -- because it is a state system and already has agreement from the city to supply the water. The chancellor is also concerned about a recommendation from LAFCO's staff that the city and university pursue annexation of new buildings within two years of their being occupied.

If LAFCO approves the conditions, Blumenthal wrote, "the university will seriously consider withdrawing its application or judicially challenging the approval. Either scenario would threaten the campus' ability to construct additional housing and may erode the post-settlement practice of addressing concerns shared by the city and university in a positive, forward thinking manner."

Blumenthal declined to elaborate Monday ahead of a LAFCO hearing on the matter Wednesday.

The city's application to expand its sphere of influence to extend the water service will be heard at 8:30 a.m. in the county Board of Supervisors chamber, 701 Ocean St. The agency will also hear UCSC's application to receive the water.

The LAFCO process may seem too complicated and arcane to affect the average resident, but the result of the disagreements between the agency, university and city could have profound repercussions.

If the university pulls its application, it could force more legal wrangling on the taxpayers' dime over impacts of future UCSC growth on residents, businesses and infrastructure. Or if LAFCO doesn't approve the applications, the university's obligation to house new students on campus falls from two-thirds to half, the difference being about 500 students, and the growth will have to take place in the main part of campus.

"That housing is the key to addressing traffic, water and qualify-of-life impacts that have a magnified effect on the community," Mayor Ryan Coonerty said Monday.

Seeking LAFCO approval for growth is "a deal killer for the university," Coonerty said. "Let's have that discussion 20 years from now" when the next university growth plan might be produced.

The university's current Long Range Development Plan ends in 2020, but the university is unlikely to actually reach projected growth due to ongoing state budget woes. The university has projected it could use up to 100 million gallons more water each year to serve 3,000 more students -- a 50 percent increase over current water use.

Patrick McCormick,the executive director of LAFCO who authored the conditions opposed by Blumenthal, said, "It's difficult for LAFCO to say yes' to 100 million gallons of water demand given the position the city is in for water supply. It's even harder to see in the future, so let's just have some check-in in the future when there is potentially a different demand."

The city has agreed to offset any increased water demand from UCSC with conservation paid for by the university.

Facing projected shortages in severely dry years and a federal mandate to save more water for fish habitat, the city is pursuing construction of a seawater desalination plant to create new supply. McCormick said he could have recommended the city OK the plant before LAFCO approves a water extension, but decided against it considering a vote on desalination won't take place for some time.

Ted Benhari, a member of the Community Water Coalition opposed to university growth, said "nothing in the recommended conditions would keep UCSC from its commitment to house more students on campus. The chancellor's saber rattling about new lawsuits is unfortunate and a sad reminder of UCSC's historic arrogant attitude that no one, citizens or other government entities, has any business trying to interfere."

In related news, the Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled recently that UCSC's application to LAFCO is valid.

The Community Water Coalition sued over a procedural question and has petitioned the appellate court to rehear the case. The court must also still hear an appeal of an environmental analysis of the water extension.

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