A Letter from the East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC) to UCSC Students

There is a housing crisis.  Students are living in their cars; or doubled, tripled, quadrupled in expensive housing on and off campus. We need action, and soon.  We think this can be done without overturning the traditions of sensitive environmental planning that have made our campus acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in the world.

The current plan to build in the East Meadow has turned design and site planning over to a national for-profit corporation. The proposal violates the university’s trust, not just with the public, but with the land. It’s a terrible precedent for the future.

More immediately, we believe students’ best interests are not served by this major shift in the long-term strategy for campus development. Without broad community consultation, it may well delay significant relief for the campus’ housing problems. Even accepting the administration’s current timeline, no additional beds for students on campus will be available before September 2022. And this presumes no construction delays. A more realistic estimate would be at least five years for the first additional bed. Can we wait that long?

The administration has been saying that there is no alternative, that adding 3000 new beds requires building in the meadow. But their recently released draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) lists several plausible strategies that don’t involve any building on the East side of campus. https://mediafiles.ucsc.edu/ppc/envdoc/SHW_DEIR_Vol%20I-reduced-better.pdf  See also ­­­alternatives at eastmeadowaction.org.) These alternatives, combined with more flexible construction of smaller units in various infill sites, could bring new beds on line sooner.

We want to contribute to adequate and equitable housing solutions. We support the efforts of Santa Cruz Movement for Housing Justice and others in the fair housing movement. We would like to hear from student activist groups that reject the current bad choice between environmental stewardship and insensitive construction. We agree with the UCSC administration’s call for more housing on campus.  And we want it done right. We hope you can join us in a wider, deeper, more open discussion about housing, one that affirms our core values of fairness, access, justice, and respect for the environment.

The stakes in such a discussion are high. Currently a bad choice is being presented to us. Either more housing by any means necessary or sensitivity to the spirit of the campus. This spirit is both about protecting nature, especially our campus reserves, and it’s a way of building respectfully in dialogue with the place, its diverse environments. We’re being told to choose, one or the other: housing or stewardship. That’s a false choice that divides us and clears the path for privatized, destructive development of our campus.

Planning with sensitivity has created the amazing campus we all know, and the UCSC experience shows that this kind of care doesn't need to be against change or growth. We have, after all, expanded to 18,000 students, with major science infrastructure, without wrecking a unique environment.

The proposal to build in the East Meadow is the opposite of our tradition of responsible planning and design. Rather than beginning with the site, it treats the meadow as simply a convenient, flat place onto which a project conceived elsewhere can be dropped. It gives too much power to the for-profit development corporation that, in effect, chose the location. And it brings an urbanized style of development and architecture to a campus that has, so far, found ways to avoid becoming like so many other universities.

We hear people say that “there’s no choice,” UCSC should “grow up,” get with the program of growth, become more like UCLA.  That’s the only way, it is said, to bring much needed housing to campus. But we’ve always avoided that path. Why begin now?

Our common challenge is surely this: not to hold on, inflexibly, to the past, but to take the best of UCSC’s traditions and make them work for the 21st Century. That’s where student visions, oriented to the future, are essential.

UCSC can be a model, going forward, of a better way to change, less destructive, more sensitive to land, habitat and scale--less driven by the bottom line. Can we imagine a place where nature and the works of humanity are not in irreconcilable conflict, where they collaborate in careful, respectful ways, where development and sustainability aren’t opposed?

This is about carrying forward and developing the values that make us unique. We can be a model for other campuses, and for cities everywhere struggling to grow sustainably, with ecological sensitivity and with concern for social justice and human needs. Let’s work together for this.