The public review period for the university’s Long Range Development Plan and its accompanying Environmental Impact Report ended yesterday, exposing widespread community concerns and debate over how the LRDP will affect the Santa Barbara area.
The current LRDP for UCSB was completed last year and, as required by state law, its draft EIR was circulated last spring for a period of public review and comment. Due to the extraordinary community response and new information that surfaced during the review process, the university rewrote sections of the EIR and re-circulated it as the revised draft EIR.
Although it is not legally required, Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas said the university is trying its best to incorporate the community’s needs into the LRDP.
“Because the public comment was so extensive and because we obtained new information in the review process that would help the community better understand our analysis of impacts and mitigations, we re-wrote 5 chapters of the DEIR and re-circulated those,” Lucas said in an email. “We had no legal obligation to do that. Also, we had a community request to hold a public meeting on the RDEIR. Again no legal requirement, but we agreed to do that as well to provide another opportunity to exchange information.”
Throughout the duration of the review period, administrators held public forums about the university’s LRDP and revised draft EIR with the Goleta City Council, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and the Goleta Valley Water Board. Speakers from Caltrans made appearances, and letters were sent to the university’s planners by the Metropolitan Transit District and the Central Coast Water Authority. Additionally, concerned residents and community organizations commented about the proposed environmental impacts of the LRDP.
The predominant concern Santa Barbara residents voiced in response to the LRDP centered on the projected population increases and developmental impacts to the region.
According to Tye Simpson, director of Campus Planning and Design, county officials claimed completion of the LRDP would bring unwanted public service costs to the region, in the form of transportation, public safety and parks development. Additionally, Simpson said, city officials and local citizens expressed apprehension about the amount of sustainable transportation demarcated in the LRDP, while administrators from Goleta’s water board raised questions about the viability of the university’s water consumption plans leading to 2025.
During the period of public review, a county analysis of the LRDP and revised draft EIR suggested that the plan – which projects an increase of 5,000 undergraduate students on campus by the year 2025 – will usher in an additional 15,000 new residents to the area, in the form of faculty, staff and indirect jobs.
However, Simpson alleges that the county’s arithmetic is incorrect. If the LRDP received full funding and was fully implemented, he said, 11,071 new jobs would be generated for the Santa Barbara region, which falls short of the county’s projection of 15,000 new residents. The jobs produced by the LRDP do not translate directly into new Santa Barbara citizens, he said.
“The economic activity demands jobs,” Simpson said. “It’s important to distinguish between people and jobs.”
County planners have projected that the increased population will cost the county approximately $135 million in road improvements, new sheriff deputies and firefighter salaries as well as parks development and miscellaneous charges.
These costs, according to Gene Lucas, are inaccurate, and are based on flawed analysis techniques.
“We think the county numbers are way out of line,” Lucas said. “We have offered to discuss and negotiate on our differences, but have not found a receptive audience to this at this point in time.”
According to a letter sent to the Office of Campus Planning and Design by Eric Ford, interim general manager of the Goleta Valley water board, the revised draft EIR underestimates future water demand and overestimates future water supplies.
More specifically, the water board claims that UCSB incorrectly estimated its future reliance on recycled water and may be violating water ordinances concerning reserve water levels in times of drought.
Despite these allegations, Simpson said the water consumption concerns raised by the Board are mistaken ones.
“Oh, the university is certainly not violating any water ordinances,” Simpson said. “I’m confused about the water board’s concerns, because I would presume that the district would encourage recycled water. No plan should be faulted for increased recycled water – if anything, it would be advantageous for the university and other sources in Goleta to use more recycled water.”
The Future of the LRDP
Now that the public comment period is officially closed, Lucas said, campus planners will review the remarks made in response to the revised draft EIR and compile replies – a process which will take several months. The responses to both EIRs will be incorporated into the final EIR, which will be sent to the UC Regents for review. If approved by the Regents, the LRDP will be forwarded to the California Coastal Commission for final review before it can be formally approved.
There are still many steps in the ladder before the LRDP can be approved, Lucas said, and budget concerns could seriously obstruct the completion of the project.
“The economic reality is that even if we had an approved LRDP today, we would not grow beyond our current size, as the state is not providing money for additional enrollment,” Lucas said. “So we will put our proposal to the Regents at a time that is appropriate for their consideration.”