Santa Cruz makes move to check growth at UC
City sparks fight, puts measures to stall campus on ballot
by Lisa M. Krieger and Ken McLaughlin, The Mercury News
19 September 2006
When UC-Santa Cruz opened in 1965, it roused a sleepy little coastal burg filled with longtime residents, surfers and retirees. Formed as a cluster of colleges where students shared dorms and meals with professors, the school was hailed as an antidote to giant research-driven campuses.
And it was smallvery small.
No more. Today, with nearly 15,000 students, its on a clear trajectory to becoming a world-class research institution.
But the feisty politicians who run Santa Cruz are digging in to fight an ambitious plan that would expand the universitys size, scope and reputation.
University of California regents will vote today on a long-range development plan, which during the next 14 years could increase the size of the student body by 30 percent, boost building square-footage by 66 percent and add three new professional schools. The plan has unleashed a political tsunami in Surf City, one of the birthplaces of Californias slow-growth movement.
It used to be that Santa Cruz was a city that happened to have a university. Now, in many regards, its a university that happens to have a town, said John Aird, who lives in a neighborhood where residents often feel under siege from students cars and party houses.
Saying enough is enough, the Santa Cruz City Council placed two measures on the November ballot. One is aimed at making it impossible for UC-Santa Cruz to expand unless it pays the full cost of past and future growth; the other, for new growth. If upheld by the courts, the measures could deny the campus access to city water, sewer and garbage disposal services.
Outraged, the university has fired back, suing the city to block the measures. It says expansion is critical to its mission of educating the states growing student population.
Bring it on, the council decided last week, as it voted to allocate $100,000 for a legal battle.
Considering what UCSC growth will cost Santa Cruz, Councilman Mike Rotkin said, the money is a sound investment, even for a cash-strapped city. We need to force the university to take these issues seriously.
Acting UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal said the arguments ignore that the university has already offered to fund more than its share of road-widening and other community projects. Also, he said, its contributions are integral to the well-being of the county, generating 13,415 jobs and millions of dollars in annual spending. Almost 4,000 university employees live in the county.
Earlier this month, the university extended an olive branch by dropping the planned student enrollment from 21,000 to 19,500. But city officials told the university to take the branch and shove it.
At the heart of the controversy is a simple fact: The university and the city have different masters. One answers to the people of California, the other to local voters and taxpayers.
The number of 18- to 24-year-old Californians is expected to climb 1.2 to 2.6 percent annually for the rest of the decadeand many of those new students will be in minority groups. Also, studies show that UC has not expanded graduate and professional programs to keep up with demand.
We have to accommodate the needs of the state of California, Blumenthal said. I would love to say UCSC represents the diversity of Californiabut we dont.
Many residents in Santa Cruz, a city of 56,000, are quick to point out that they hold affection for the campus, and appreciate its annual summer Shakespeare festival, the volunteer work by students and other contributions. But many fear that the university may become so big, it will threaten the character of its coastal community, known for its world-class surfing, dramatic coastline and quirky politics.
When Rotkin, a self-styled socialist-feminist, arrived on campus in 1969 to teach community studies and Marxism, there were only 1,800 students.
You didnt know everyone, but you recognized every face, he said.
But Blumenthal says the original planspecifying that all instruction would take place in a small college settingwas expensive and unsustainable.
As its grown, the campus has emerged as a leader in high-tech fields such as molecular biology and optics, contributing to prestigious research such as the Human Genome Project and the Hubble Space Telescope. There are innovative graduate-level programs in subjects like bioinformatics, molecular biology and electrical engineering, which attract young faculty members and lucrative grants. Students were once ungraded; now, they strive to get As.
The UC campuses are expected to have those kinds of aspirations, said Rod Rose of the educational consulting firm Stratus and past president of the Society for College and University Planning.
But critics say the university has done too little to soften the effect of its ambitions.
The universitys failure to provide enough beds on campus has forced many to seek off-campus housing, some neighbors say.
Student housing is invading the community and sucking up the capacity to provide homes to families, said Aird, who lives at the busy intersection of High Street and Highland Avenue. There are party houses and cars parked all over the street.
Campus growth has also frustrated people who work at the university.
Cathy Shender, an academic adviser, sees the effect every day as she crawls through congested West Side streets that UCSC students, faculty members and employees use to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic on Mission Street. Some nights, it takes an hour and a half to travel 13 miles to her Rio Del Mar home via Highway 1.
I stay in the slow lane, and Ive taken up knitting, she said with a laugh.
In the past, towns had little leverage against UC growth. But thats changing. Although UC can set its own land-use policies according to the state constitution, stricter state environmental laws have given local communities powerful weapons to fight projects that they oppose, slowing down universities strategic plans.
A recent state Supreme Court decision held that California State University-Monterey Bay must pay to cover the effect of expansion in Marina.
If the UC regents approve the UCSC growth plan and its accompanying environmental impact report, there will be a legal challenge, warned Mardi Wormhoudt, the Santa Cruz County supervisor who drafted one of the initiatives on the citys ballot.
There will be millions of dollars of impacts, such as more traffic and water consumption, she said. The issue is: Who will pay? Will the cost be borne by a small local community with an inadequate tax base?
As a faculty member and Santa Cruz resident, Paul Ortiz, an associate professor in community studies, would like to see cooler heads prevail.
We need to get everyone at the table to start talking and negotiating, he said. As a local taxpayer, I want the city to be spending money on schools and roads, not lawsuits. Its absurd that its come to this.