UCSC inches closer to moving forward with controversial housing project

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

A Santa Cruz Superior Court last month ruled in favor of the controversial Student Housing West project proposed by UC Santa Cruz. Local environmental group Habitat and Watershed Caretakers represents the final legal challenge to the project.

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A UC Santa Cruz housing project — which a local environmental group has argued would harm natural habitats on the campus and not offer affordable housing — could be overcoming its final legal challenger.

“We are pleased the Santa Cruz County Superior Court upheld our detailed environmental process and review of Student Housing West,” Scott Hernandez-Jason, assistant vice chancellor, wrote to Lookout on Monday about an Oct. 27 court decision.

He added that the lawsuit has delayed the university’s efforts to provide “much-needed housing support for students and reduce the housing pressure on the community.”

Opposing group Habitat and Watershed Caretakers supports housing on campus as long as it is affordable, chair Don Stevens told Lookout in April 2021.

“High-priced campus housing drives students to seek more affordable housing off campus, exacerbates our housing crisis by pressuring rents upward and squeezing out other renters, and creates major impacts to our neighborhoods,” he said. “This lawsuit calls the bluff that UCSC is capable of supplying affordable housing.”

The project, called Student Housing West, would build about 3,000 new beds — or a net increase of 2,100 beds for students. University officials hope the project would bring upper-division students who live in the local housing market back to on-campus housing.

“Habitat and Watershed Caretakers, the only remaining group challenging this project, will have 60 days from the date the judgment is entered to appeal the court’s decision,” said Hernandez-Jason. “We will begin to develop a project timeline once we are past all legal challenges.”

Student Housing West includes two sites: one at East Meadow at the corner of Hagar and Coolidge drives, and a second site on Heller Drive. In addition to housing, the project provides a child care center for students and staff.

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

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