Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,
My name is David Roberts and I am a 1994 graduate of Cowell College with College Honors and Highest Honors in History. I was also the 1994 recipient of the Dean’s Undergraduate Award, Chancellor’s Undergraduate Award and Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for a thesis that I wrote about athlete lives in China based on the year I spent training at a professional table tennis team in China from 1989-90. I later attended law school, practiced law for 17 years and spent 13 of those years working in the Beijing office of O’Melveny & Myers, one of California’s oldest law firms. I recently resigned after nearly eight years as a partner at O’Melveny to move my family to the Seattle area and to pursue my own projects.
I am writing in support of the East Meadow Action Committee’s efforts to protect the “great meadow” (quoting Thomas Church, renowned landscape architect). During my initial years at UCSC, I lived off campus and would ride my mountain bike up from town, gradually ascending the meadow, feeling the burn in my legs as I pedaled through that peaceful oasis towards the sanctuary of the shady trees in the distance. The last part of the ride is one of the most beautiful and inspiring commutes anyone could imagine, not to mention the sheer joy of later bombing the downhill on two wheels through that pristine rolling grassland scene at the end of a day attending classes among the redwood groves.
My best friend for 32 years is an architect in Vermont who has worked on many university design projects, including dormitories and other structures for Williams College and University of Vermont. In 1993, he visited me at UCSC and we toured the world-renowned structures designed by Charles Moore and others and also rode our bicycles around the campus, including up and down the roads around the meadow. When I mentioned to him the new plan to build housing on the meadow, his immediate reaction was: “But, wait a second, the pristine, open meadow leading up to the school is the most iconic aspect of the campus. Building on it would be crazy!” It has been 25 years since he visited UCSC and yet the impactful, iconic design of the approach to the school still sticks in his mind to this day.
A great university starts with a vision, and then develops a master plan for designing and developing the campus to achieve that vision. For UCSC, the decision to never build on the meadow south of the campus was part of the original master plan and is essential to preserving the vision of the school. The great meadow and how the campus buildings are nestled and hidden among the trees at the crest of the hill define UCSC. This design forms an essential part of the heritage of UCSC. In my view, it is a fundamental responsibility of UCSC leadership and the Regents to understand and protect that heritage.
Apart from vision and heritage, UCSC is also similar to a large business. It faces practical challenges like any large business such as how to address growth, how to attract talent, how to manage its relationship with the surrounding community, and how to build new infrastructure in a sustainable way without damaging its brand and image.
Building on the meadow will irreparably damage the brand and image of UCSC. The school has always cultivated an image of seeking knowledge and truth in nature. Concealing buildings, parking lots and other structures both within the forest area and, where necessary, within folds in the rolling hills, was intentional and has always been part of a development plan designed to preserve the natural beauty of the campus. If a collection of buildings is suddenly jutting up and out of the meadow and becomes the first thing people see when approaching the campus, it will severely detract from the original vision of the school.
Housing is a structural challenge in many communities. Sometimes a certain level of sacrifice is necessary. But in well-run communities that value their brand and heritage, there is always a line that is never crossed. There are always certain green spaces that will never be developed and certain view properties that will never be built upon. And not just because of the selfish nimby desires of a few people, but because preserving that view and space for everyone is essential to maintaining the brand and image of the community.
I strongly urge you and the Regents to take the meadow off the table. There are other alternatives that can be explored with creativity and innovation while still preserving the iconic spaces and vistas that make UCSC unique and special.
David Julian Roberts
Cowell College, Class of 1994
Phi Beta Kappa