As UCSB attempts to rebuild and re-imagine itself, a number of roadblocks still loom. This article, the third and final in a series, looks at the problems in redesigning an oceanfront university.
Armed with a new Long Range Development Plan – UCSB’s blueprint for the future – university planners must now overcome a series of logistical hurdles before their vision becomes a concrete reality.
In order to execute a project as expansive as the 2008 LRDP – a document that calls for the demolition of entire segments of campus and the accommodation of an additional 5,000 students by 2025 – the university has to redraft an environmental impact report, run the plan by the Regents and convince the notoriously stringent California Coastal Commission that a bigger UCSB is better for the coast.
And all along the way, thanks to a lengthy public review period, UCSB must placate community members who fear that the university’s expansion will lead to overcrowding, environmental degradation and drought.
Dick Flacks, a retired sociology professor who formed Sustainable University Now – a coalition aimed at ensuring measured growth at UCSB – said the 2008 draft of the EIR raises a host of problems that need to be addressed. According to Flacks, the current LRDP drains Goleta Valley water supplies and overcrowds campus housing.
In many ways, Flacks said, the LRDP is an overzealous view of the future.
“I think that there can be a good balance between the proposed growth and the university’s needs,” Flacks said, “Unfortunately, the current EIR suggests that the university has not reached that.”
Revising the EIR
Flacks said the university initially intended to breeze through the public review process without taking flak for the EIR. However, due to the high volume of public responses the university has been forced to revise the EIR.
Since the EIR was released in March, it has been open for review at more than 50 public hearings.
Doreen Farr, the new 3rd District supervisor-elect, said she is apprehensive about the implementation of the LRDP. Farr said she worries about how the schools expansion will affect Isla Vista.
“I want to make sure, first of all, that the LRDP and the [Isla Vista] Master Plan are well integrated,” Farr said. “With the proposed increases in density that can occur, we have to make sure that we do have all infrastructure to support that.”
Hydrating the Campus and Community
Farr, who has studied water consumption in the area, said that she has her doubts about UCSB’s projected water usage.
“Water is an issue that I have been following for a long time,” Farr said. “My conclusion, based on research I started several years ago, was that there was not going to be enough water [in 2025].”
Farr said the university’s calculations about its future water usage rely on questionable data.
“My understanding is that, when they say they have enough water, they are basing it on current zoning,” Farr said. “They have to make certain assumptions about how much water comes [to the Goleta District] from the state water project. … And I think that has been estimated on the high side.”
According to Tye Simpson, director of the Office of Campus Planning and Design, community concerns about water supplies are unfounded. The Goleta district’s most conservative estimates, Simpson said, have determined there will be a surplus of 14,633 acre-feet of potable water in the year 2030. This surplus, Simpson said, far exceeds the demands of the university in the LRDP.
“The university’s total water use projected in the plan would be 856 [acre-feet] in 2025,” Simpson said. “Its an interesting opinion that we won’t have enough water by 2025, but its just not factually correct.”
Despite this projection, Flacks maintained the initial EIR does little to confront water usage.
“If the project is done to the extent planned in the LRDP – with an additional 5,000 students … that will use up all the water that is going to be available in the Goleta Valley,” Flacks said.
A Place to Rest 5,000 Heads
With nearly 7,300 new bed spaces planned for 2025, Simpson says the LRDP will lead to a tremendous spike in on-campus residents.
“We’re really trying to hit the sweet spot of providing housing approximately equal to the number of incoming faculty, staff and students,” Simpson said.
Again, Flacks said he finds the LRDP too ambitious in its scheme to boost the amount of housing. The university, he said, should consider alternatives like downgrading its projected enrollment growth from 5,000 students to a more manageable 3,000.
“There is a way to mitigate the problems of the LRDP,” Flacks said. “If the university were to grow smaller, it would take the pressure off of housing supply.”
Chancellor Henry T. Yang says the university is reviewing all comments made on the EIR, and will give Flacks’ input due consideration.
“His suggestion is a thoughtful one, worthy of our attention and further serious consideration and discussion,” Yang said in an email. “We will also continue to discuss the plan and enrollments with all interested members of the community.”
Pending the release of the revised version of the EIR, a new period of public review is set to open in January of 2009. If the revamped EIR receives community approval, the LRDP will proceed to the UC Regents for approval, after which it will be sent to the California Coastal Commission.
What could happen next in this multi-layer process, Farr said, is anyone’s guess.
“I can’t predict the future, what the results are going to be, but clearly there were a lot of important questions that were raised in the initial phase of the EIR,” Farr said. “This is why they are re-circulating it now.”