On Thursday afternoon, the University of California Board of Regents approved a plan that would increase enrollment at UC Santa Cruz from about 19,000 currently to 28,000 by 2040. Critics say the plan does not account for the burden the increase will place on an already taxed housing market.
Overruling concerns that the increased number of students would tax an already burdened housing supply, the University of California’s governing board unanimously gave its stamp of approval Thursday afternoon to UC Santa Cruz’s plan to boost the school’s enrollment to 28,000 by 2040.
The vote comes a day after similar approval by the Board of Regents’ Finance and Capital Strategies Committee sent UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan to the full board.
University officials noted that they have worked to hear and account for the community’s concerns, and that the final report and environmental documents included and took those issues into consideration.
UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive, in her presentation to the committee Wednesday, added that many have voiced concern about overpopulation, and stressed that the issue is being taken seriously.
“We understand the concerns expressed by the city and county about growth in our community,” she said. “I’ve taken part in regular, ongoing meetings with city and county leaders as well as state representatives.”
The plan promises housing for all of the new students above the former 19,500 enrollment cap, and for up to 25% of new staff and faculty.
Additionally, the plan states that it will nearly double the campus’ natural reserve, propose sites for four new residential colleges, improve transportation on campus while promoting alternative methods, and lay out a path for infrastructure including water usage, energy, and wildfire mitigation.
While the plan is ambitious, Larive said the measures outlined in it are practical and enforceable.
“There are more than 50 legally binding and enforceable mitigation measures within this environmental impact review,” said Larive.
Casey Beyer, the chief executive officer of the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, said he supported the plan.
“The university and the chamber have always had a very beneficial relationship,” said Beyer, adding that the school has a long track record of positive contributions to the community as a whole.
Beyer added that while he understands the community’s concerns, people might need to shift their perspective.
“When any project comes forward, in Santa Cruz or somewhere else, there is always a narrative about the negative impacts the project will bring to the community,” he said. “In this case, it will be a long-term plan that will be done in a context that mitigates the perceived negatives.”
Further, Beyer said that increasing enrollment will have a positive impact on Santa Cruz and promote economic vitality.
“More students means more young people coming to shop and play in the county with the intent of getting educated and hopefully grow and live here, just like they did a generation ago,” he said. “I think that doesn’t become a part of the overall conversation.”
Not all are supportive.
Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sandy Brown voiced her concerns about adding new students to an already crowded campus.
“Taking the perspective of students is very significant,” said Brown. “We need to think about the quality of education that students are getting.”
Brown, a UCSC graduate, said the correct balance of staff, faculty and students is crucial.
“Not having enough staff on campus or having staff serving significantly higher student populations is a huge burden,” she said. “It just undermines their experience.”
And housing remains the biggest thing on Brown’s mind.
“It’s very important that the university makes a commitment to really get serious about housing,” she said, adding more room for students will mitigate traffic congestion and high rents in town. “They said they were committed to building more on campus housing in the last LRDP, but we’ve seen just a small fraction of additional student housing.”
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty agreed.
“We’re in a housing crisis, it’s already unaffordable, and adding that many new renters is untenable not only for the community, but future students,” he said.
Coonerty, who teaches on campus, finds that his students are already stressed about housing as is.
“Some of my students are homeless or skipping meals,” he said. “That’s not educational access, so we believe it’s in everyone’s interest to find an agreement.”
Brown and Coonerty, both members of the Santa Cruz city-county task force on this issue, are already looking ahead.
“We need to tie future growth to completing these mitigations,” said Coonerty. “This is just the beginning of the conversation.”