An aerial view of the UC Santa Cruz campus.
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Civic Life

Town-gown tension: Local governments launch petition calling on UCSC to abide by 5 conditions to add students

The Santa Cruz City-County Task Force on UC Santa Cruz Growth Plans is asking residents to sign a petition that calling for certain parameters for student expansion. Here’s how it might impact the larger campus growth debate.

A task force led by the Santa Cruz city and county governments is calling on UC Santa Cruz to agree to five binding commitments that would restrict how — and where — the university could build more buildings on campus and increase its enrollment.

The petition, discussed as part of a virtual community forum about campus growth on Sunday, is a response to UCSC’s proposed 2021 Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP), a state-mandated document which outlines a framework for campus expansion. A draft of the plan, released earlier this year, seeks to prepare the campus for about about 8,500 additional students by 2040.

After UCSC first announced that enrollment projection in 2018, Santa Cruz voters overwhelmingly endorsed Measure U — a symbolic ballot measure opposing further enrollment growth at the UC campus. In response, the city and county formed the Santa Cruz City-County Task Force on UC Santa Cruz Growth Plans.

Now, raising concerns about potential impacts to housing, wildfires, emissions and natural resources, the petition being circulated by the task force calls for UCSC to agree to five legally binding commitments:

  • House all additional students, faculty, and staff beyond 19,500 on campus.
  • Tie enrollment growth to the development of new housing and infrastructure.
  • Designate the UCSC Campus Natural Reserve as a permanent reserve, forever protected from development.
  • Meet strict greenhouse gas emission targets and air quality standards.
  • Refrain from development in the North Campus, a high fire hazard zone.

“UCSC must make substantive and legally enforceable commitments to provide the housing and infrastructure that will be essential for future UCSC students, faculty, and staff to succeed, and for the well-being of the community-at-large over the next 20 years,” the petition states.

The petition, a copy of which is at the end of this story, is yet another sign of the community’s wariness about more students on campus — and potential litigation that might attempt to stop it. More than a decade ago, a lawsuit over UCSC’s 2005 Long Range Development plan ended in a landmark settlement that caps undergraduate enrollment at its current level of 19,500 until the 2021 long-range plan takes effect.

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The petition is addressed to UC regents, UC President Michael Drake and UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive, but before delivering it, the task force is seeking signatures from the general public.

A draft of 2021 LRDP and its accompanying environmental impact report were released in January, and regents are expected to consider a final version of the plan in the fall.

Laying out an ambitious vision for campus growth by 2040, that plan seeks to prepare the campus for a projected enrollment of up to 28,000 students — the largest enrollment projection in campus history, and an increase of about 44% above enrollment last year.

The petition claims that level of growth would have “devastating consequences for everyone who calls Santa Cruz home” in the absence of the kinds of commitments it calls for. UCSC officials, however, have said they are committed to offsetting impacts — and argue the additional enrollment is necessary to fulfill the UC’s mission and open the gates of higher education to a larger and more diverse generation of Californians.

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Housing is a key issue in the debate. Santa Cruz is the smallest city to host a UC campus where an ongoing housing crisis has seen rents soar. UCSC researchers have shown the Santa Cruz housing market to be among the least affordable for its residents in the nation.

UCSC’s long-range plan already includes the goal of housing all new enrollment on campus, along with 25% of new faculty and staff. But plan critics argue that the goal falls short of a binding commitment and say similar housing goals have not been met in the past.

A spokesperson for UCSC could not immediately be reached for comment on the commitments sought by the petition. Campus officials have previously said a legally binding agreement would be premature before the regents have a chance to review the LRDP.

You can read the full petition below or at actonucscgrowth.org.