Quick Take:

The university’s governing board is expected to vote on a plan next week that would increase enrollment at UC Santa Cruz from about 19,000 to 28,000 — a 44% increase — by 2040. Opponents say UCSC’s commitment to house considerably more students, staff and faculty is unrealistic and will only make the region’s housing crunch worse.

After more than four years of controversy and debate, UC Santa Cruz’s plan to enroll 28,000 students by 2040 is up for approval by the university system’s governing board next week.

Specifically, the University of California’s Board of Regents will be reviewing the environmental impact report associated with the Long Range Development Plan, a required step prior to its implementation.

Opponents say the region cannot absorb the additional students and staff members, and that the university’s plans to deal with the housing crunch will fall short and only make things worse. After a public comment period that ended in March, UCSC finalized its report earlier this month.

Here’s what to know ahead of the three-day meeting, including how you can comment on the plan. The meeting begins next Tuesday, but the vote on the UCSC plan is not expected until the following day, Sept. 29.

What is a Long Range Development Plan?

The state requires University of California campuses to create the plans — aimed at increasing access to the schools, primarily by growing enrollment to deal with the state’s growing population.

UCSC’s enrollment is now about 19,000, making the 2040 figure about 44% more than current rates. The previous LRDP, passed in 2005, capped that number at 19,500.

The plan also accounts for the hiring of 2,200 additional full-time employees. In the document, the university commits to housing 100% of the additional student population — that is, above 19,500 — and 25% of faculty and staff on campus in an attempt to mitigate housing issues in Santa Cruz County.

The plaza in front of the Bay Tree Bookstore at UCSC was busy on Sept. 23, 2021, the first day of classes.
The plaza in front of the Bay Tree Bookstore at UCSC was busy on Sept. 23, 2021, the first day of classes. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

The university projects its available space for residential housing to nearly double. UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez Jason said the report, made in collaboration with campus and community stakeholders, “lays out a framework for the campus’ land use for the next 20 years.”

“The proposed 2021 LRDP balances access to education with environmental stewardship and helps us chart a resilient path for the next 20 years,” he said in an email.

Why is it controversial?

Housing is at the forefront of the debate around UCSC expansion. Santa Cruz is home to one of the least affordable housing markets in the nation, a situation many claim has been exacerbated by university policies.

UCSC Professor Emeritus Ronnie Lipschutz is concerned the school will not meet its housing commitment.

“I think the LRDP is an unrealistic document,” Lipschutz said. “It’s an aspirational document, let’s put it that way. It’s very misleading in the sense that it is what the university would very much like to do. If it had the money or if it could find the capital to do all of those projects.”

The 2021 Long Range Development Plan is the sixth of its kind for the UCSC, with previous ones passed in 1963, 1971, 1978, 1988 and 2005. All prior LRDPs were met with similar backlash to the most recent one.

The last plan set out to expand student enrollment to 21,000. But after Santa Cruz County and nine Santa Cruz residents sued over water rights, traffic and housing, enrollment was capped to 19,500.

In 2018, almost 77% of Santa Cruz residents passed Measure U to give the city council sole authority to implement policies limiting the growth of UCSC.

The measure’s passage led to the establishment of the Santa Cruz City-County Task Force on UCSC Growth Plans. Since its establishment in 2018, the task force has worked to implement legally binding agreements with UCSC to house every additional student on campus. It, however, has not succeeded in doing so.

“The decision on the LRDP will affect Santa Cruz for years to come, especially with regards to housing and traffic,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers in a press release. “The City will continue to express our needs for the University to mitigate its impacts and we hope the Regents will take our requests seriously.”

What’s next?

The regents will consider the LRDP and its associated environmental impact report for approval at its three-day meeting, which begins Sept. 28. According to the agenda, there is time set aside for public comment on each of the days, but a committee vote is slated for Sept. 29 and a vote by the full board on Sept. 30.

Morgan Bostic, who works with the task force to advocate for its concerns, urges residents to attend and speak at the meeting, which will be streamed online.

“It is critical that those who are concerned about the University’s growth plans make their voices heard at the UC Regents meetings next week by submitting written public comments or signing up to speak during the meeting,” Bostic told Lookout.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this piece misstated the amount that would be available under the plan for housing.

Follow Haneen Zain on: Twitter. Haneen moved to Santa Cruz from Orange County in 2017 to begin her undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz. After graduating in 2021 with a B.A. in politics, she decided...