Rendering of primary site of UCSC's proposed Student Housing West project.
Rendering of primary site of UCSC’s proposed Student Housing West project, which would replace and significantly expand existing housing on Heller Drive.
(UC Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

UC Santa Cruz seeking re-approval of Student Housing West project following court ruling

After a lawsuit delayed construction, a 3,000-bed student housing project in the works since 2017 is heading back to UC regents for reconsideration on March 17. The project is across two sites, with a smaller development proposed on UCSC’s East Meadow at the center of contention.

UC Santa Cruz is seeking re-approval to move forward with Student Housing West, a more than 3,000-bed student housing project that has seen long delays amid alumni-led opposition and environmental litigation.

UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive announced Friday she intends to bring the project back to University of California Board of Regents for re-approval at their meeting March 17 .

“Student Housing West is the best course for us to secure the most beds to serve our current students,” Larive said in a campus message. “We haven’t built a significant amount of housing on the UC Santa Cruz campus in nearly 20 years. It’s time.”

In the works since April 2017, the project is a public-private partnership with Capstone Development Partners that would replace and expand existing student housing, adding about 2,000 new beds.

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

Chancellor Cynthia Larive has been meeting regularly with local leaders to find ways to maximize the university’s...

The housing, campus officials have said, is needed to alleviate existing pressure on the surrounding rental market and meet the demand of current students, as opposed to preparing for any future growth. Separately, UCSC’s future growth plan — called the 2021 Long-Range Development Plan — is nearing the final stages of public review.

Most of Student Housing West — 2,920 beds — is proposed for the western campus, on Heller Drive.

Opposition has focused on a second site added to the project later in 2017, after it was discovered that part of the initial project site is considered habitat for a threatened species, the red-legged frog.

That second site is at the bottom of UCSC’s East Meadow, at the corner of Hagar and Coolidge drives. It would include student-family housing and an expanded child care center for both students and staff.

A proposal to build family student housing, and a child care center for students at staff.
A proposal to build family student housing, and a child care center for students at staff, at the corner of Hagar and Coolidge Drives.
(UC Santa Cruz)

An array of alumni, former campus officials and faculty have lined up against development of the meadow, some organizing under the banner of the East Meadow Action Committee. (Lookout founder Ken Doctor, a trustee on the UCSC foundation board, has been among the project’s critics.)

And after the project was approved by regents in 2019, the East Meadow Action Committee filed a lawsuit challenging the approval process and aspects of its environmental impact report.

In October, a Santa Cruz County superior court judge delivered a mixed ruling. The judge upheld the environmental impact report but overturned regents’ earlier approval of the project, ruling the UC board had failed to adequately review cost estimates.

That sets the stage for university officials to go back to the regents for re-approval later this month.

In a statement, the East Meadow Action Committee said UCSC’s insistence on the meadow site has already led to years of delays, urging Chancellor Larive, and the UC regents, to reconsider.

“This latest decision is just a continuation of the same unproductive strategy. We are dismayed to see the university continue to follow this path, to the detriment of needed student housing, of students, and of UCSC itself,” the committee said. “As friends and supporters of UCSC, we will continue to oppose this project. It will continue to go nowhere until it is modified to be less destructive.”