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Response to the UC Santa Cruz Administration (March 23, 2018)

The East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC) contends that the university’s plan to develop the campus East Meadow was adopted hastily, secretively, and without a judicious consideration of alternatives. The current project reverses more than five decades of site-sensitive planning. The housing crisis on campus and in the City must be addressed. But not at the cost of irreversible damage to UCSC’s proudest legacy.

We are responding here to the administration’s widely-circulated letter of March 21st defending the decision to build a large housing complex in the meadow at the intersection of Hagar and Coolidge Drives. While we strongly support adding additional student housing and providing high-quality affordable childcare on the campus, we strongly oppose the decision to build in the East Meadow, and we protest the lack of transparency in that decision, the undue influence of private interests, and the failure to provide alternative solutions.

The letter makes vague claims of respect for UCSC’s unique environment and design tradition, while brushing aside objections that have been mounting in recent weeks from faculty, alumni, donors, students, staff, and community members. In their first paragraph and again at the end, the administration characterizes these objections as “concerns that come with any construction project.” But this is not just “any construction project.” It is a radical reversal of the design principles and planning and building practices that have guided the university for more than 50 years.

The dramatic entry to the campus that this project would ruin is iconic. In 1963 the decision not to center UCSC in the open fields but rather in the forest and knolls uphill was the defining act that created the UCSC we know. Since then, keeping the grasslands open has been a principle restated in every Long-Range Development Plan. Our architects and planners have respected the admonition of our founding visionary, Thomas Church, to build at the brow of the meadows rather than at their base, and to always build in scale with the site.

The current project takes the opposite approach. It drops a large development designed for another site and one that would no longer fit on a crowded west-side location, into the East Meadow. The Chancellor and EVC claim it will be made to “blend in” with the surroundings. This is nonsense. There is no way that forty apartment houses and an early education center, along with parking, roads, etc., set atop an embankment, can ever be masked or made to nestle into the meadow.

It is disingenuous for the Chancellor and EVC to claim they are committed to the “tradition of building respectfully” when they have cast UCSC’s founding design principle aside. The outsized role of a private developer in choosing the site (of which more below) is further cause for alarm about how future planning at UCSC will proceed.  

EMAC strongly agrees with providing student housing and childcare on campus. What the letter from the administration says about the crisis in the city is accurate. And UCSC must do its part to improve the situation. We are not opposed to “Student Housing West.” What we object to is the way the housing crisis is being used, as in the administration’s letter, to justify an unprecedented and destructive move into the East Meadow. The damage done to the site and to the larger campus environment, our most famous attribute, will be irreparable.  

It is clear that serious alternatives have not been considered in the present hasty decision. Let’s reverse the administration’s disastrous proposal and seek a better way forward.

The administration’s page of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) includes several items that appear to contest material on the EMAC website. In the short appendix that follows we offer some replies. Others will be found on our website.

FAQ Responses

Overall, the administration’s compilation of facts consistently omits any serious problems and puts a positive spin on the decisions that have brought us to the present situation.

For example, the discussions of the “Public Private Partnership” (P3) arrangements are seriously misleading, and use the charade that Capstone Development is a truly separate entity from the financing unit and the maintenance unit and the construction unit and so on. In fact, these are all close partners, structured precisely so they could claim to be separate, but flying in close formation in project after project. Many of these nominally separate units were actually all in the same corporate unit until just a few years ago.

Many of the FAQs primarily address the Westside project. Our key issue is construction in the East Meadow.

“Why is part of the Westside project now at Hagar and Coolidge?”

We have no argument with the description of how the project evolved. We do object to the complete lack of any discussion of the issues we, and many others, are raising about the appropriateness of the “Meadow Housing East” site (let’s use accurate language for a change). We agree that it is desirable to have the childcare facility co-located with Family Student Housing, but we disagree that placing all that near the entry to the campus, in the East Meadow, “is the best solution.” The site is between two increasingly busy roads, and the intersection, already clogged at times, can only get worse. There is as yet no traffic plan, and no mention of traffic at all in the administration’s messages.

“Did the developers pick the Hagar site?”  

The answer given to this question is typical of the entire FAQ document. We have said “it was the private developer who first picked the East Meadow site.” The administration’s text says the developer suggested the site and the university approved it. These are two ways of saying the same thing. The document relentlessly skews facts to the advantage of the proposal.

“How did you communicate the change in siting…”

The decision to develop in the East Meadow was made in October 2017. There is no question that the university provided minimal notice of that momentous decision in a very few places. There is also no question that most of the people who would have an interest in this issue were not aware of the spillover of “Student Housing West” into the East Meadow for another four months.  Many people who are prominent in university life and in supporting this university—donors, trustees, the faculty at large, student leaders, alumni, and community members—had no idea until early March.  The university’s own Design Advisory Board had no idea of the East location until February. Most students have only just begun to learn of the new site. The university gave adequate notice of the west campus portion of the project. But it is undeniable that the East Meadow dimension was not well publicized, save within a few vague public notices misleadingly labelled “Student Housing West.”

- East Meadow Action Committee (EMAC), 3/23/18

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