The southern corner of the East Meadow.
The southern corner of UCSC’s East Meadow is one of two sites proposed for development as part of Student Housing West.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
UC Santa Cruz

Appellate court ruling a victory for UCSC in Student Housing West project, but two lawsuits ongoing

This latest decision, while a win for UC Santa Cruz, doesn’t mean the university can move forward with a large on-campus housing project known as Student Housing West. Two lawsuits pending against the project mean it’s still on hold.

A recent ruling by the 6th District Court of Appeal has cleared one legal barrier filed against the large and controversial on-campus housing project, known as Student Housing West, for UC Santa Cruz. That project is slated to add about 2,100 new beds on campus.

While university officials say they are happy about the ruling, it doesn’t mean they can move forward on the project. Two lawsuits filed by two local groups are still ongoing.

In the appeal turned down last week, a group of opponents of the project named the East Meadow Action Committee argued that the university didn’t follow California Environmental Quality Act requirements. Essentially, they argue that the university didn’t adequately research and inform the public about environmental concerns of the project, member Jim Clifford told Lookout on Thursday.

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The three-judge panel, however, ruled that the university did provide enough information.

In a statement about the ruling, university officials said the project underwent a thorough analysis.

“We are pleased that the 6th District Court of Appeal upheld our detailed environmental review of Student Housing West, finding the arguments without merit,” said spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason. “This ruling affirms a lower court’s decision issued in November 2020 and our belief that this project is ready to be built.”

Clifford said the committee is keeping its options open to continue fighting against the development including by way of another pending lawsuit. Clifford, a professor emeritus in the History of Consciousness Department, worked at the university for more than 30 years. He retired in 2011.

The committee is made up of local professors, alumni and community members and was formed in late winter 2018, Clifford said. He said they are very disappointed in the ruling, and emphasized that the decision doesn’t mean the court agrees that the project should move forward but that it followed the relevant state law correctly.

While the group supports the university’s goal of providing more on-campus housing, its opposition has focused on the location of part of the project. Specifically, about a planned building on the campus’ East Meadow, an undeveloped and iconic part of the campus terrain. In addition, the group is highly critical about the manner in which the university moved forward with major changes to the project without, it says, seeking more public input.

The project encompasses two sites: the controversial East Meadow at the corner of Hagar and Coolidge drives, and a second site on Heller Drive.

The project is a public-private partnership with developer Capstone, and the current plans include building more than 3,000 student beds. Considering the university will be phasing out some existing housing, the project would add 2,100 student beds on campus in total.

The other local group opposing the project with a lawsuit is Habitat and Watershed Caretakers, known as HAWC.

University officials say these legal battles are preventing them from moving forward.

“This only delays our efforts to address the urgent housing shortage, provide much-needed housing support for students and reduce the housing pressure on the community,” said Hernandez-Jason. “These unnecessary delays create cost increases and slow down housing opportunities in ways that create real, negative impacts on a significant number of individuals, especially our students. Despite this opposition, we will continue to advocate for this important housing project for our current students.”

(Note: Lookout founder Ken Doctor, a trustee on the UCSC Foundation board, has been among the project’s critics.)