Here are the most important takeaways from the University of California Board of Regents’ meeting this month.
UCSB’s Ocean Road Housing Project Approved by UC Regents Committee
Several facets of the long-awaited UC Santa Barbara Ocean Road housing project — which aims to provide 540 new residential units for faculty and staff, including 180 for-sale townhouse units and 360 rental apartments — were approved by the University of California Board of Regents Finance and Capital Strategies Committee on May 18.
The project will be voted on by the entire Board of Regents today, May 19, and the business terms were discussed by the committee in closed session prior to its public hearing.
“After extensive consultation with our community, the city of Goleta, with Santa Barbara County, with the Coastal Commission, we have gone through all of the processes, so now we present [the project] before the regents for your approval,” UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said during the meeting.
Ocean Road housing aims to fulfill UCSB’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and subsequent contractual obligation to build 1,800 new housing units for its faculty and staff by 2025 amidst the housing shortage at UCSB.
“I am, of course, supportive of this project specifically in regard to the need for housing at UCSB, which is a paramount need,” UC Regent Richard Leib said. “I think that we need to put some conditions on the development regarding affordability … and I think that can best be done as negotiations continue, so I’m willing to support the project right now as is, with the understanding that negotiations will continue to satisfy the regents in terms of affordability.”
The project will utilize the 16.7 acres of land for housing, retail space and parking structures. It was originally proposed in 2005 and slated for construction in 2007 but was postponed in 2009 after public outcry.
Community members originally took issue with the potential environmental impacts of the project, which is set to be located along Ocean Road and necessitates the demolition of the current border between Isla Vista and the campus, the row of eucalyptus trees that line the street, UCSB’s Student Health building and several parking lots.
The housing project was last discussed by the UC Regents at a 2019 meeting, where they promised to hear further information about the project — including information on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) report — in 2020.
The project was not discussed by the regents until the current May 2022 meeting, when the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee approved the project’s CEQA report, an amendment to UCSB’s LRDP that would allow the project to move forward, and Phases 1 and 2 of the design.
“The development of the Ocean Road project will provide an on-campus residential community prioritized for UCSB’s workforce, structured to provide below-market housing for faculty and staff. Additionally, the project will transform the campus interface with Isla Vista,” the project proposal read.
According to the proposal, the project will be designed in the Spanish revival style and occur in two separate phases: the first will create 120 rental homes, 142 for-sale townhomes and the majority of the retail space. Also included in Phase 1 of the project will be the demolition of the existing Student Health building to make room for Phase 2 of the project, which aims to create 240 rental homes, 38 for-sale townhomes and the majority of new parking spaces.
Additionally, the proposal noted that the project will comply with the university’s sustainable practices policies and is being designed with an emphasis on sustainable development. It further states that retail spaces in the new development will focus on acquiring a minimum of 25% participation from “disadvantaged, disabled veteran, and women owned business enterprises.”
The project will also require an amendment to the LRDP, which currently requires the allocation of 3.5 acres of land for “Academic and Support” uses. The passed amendment will allow for these 3.5 acres of land to be redesignated to “Housing” uses.
The CEQA report determined that there were no significant environmental impacts of the project that had not already been addressed by the LRDP and noted of the eucalyptus trees that would be removed— which was a previous point of contention for the project — that 17 of the trees had already been taken down and the existing trees “were mostly planted to replace fallen trees or trees removed for safety issues.”
The “2010 Long Range Development Plan Final Environmental Impact Report (2010 LRDP Final EIR) adequately addresses the environmental effects of the proposed Ocean Road Housing project (Project) pursuant to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act,” the proposal addendum read.
While the Regents’ proposal did not include a specific timeline for the project, it must be completed by 2025 to adhere to the LRDP.
Students Speak Against Thirty Meter Telescope Project
In light of the Thirty Meter Telescope project and the controversy regarding its planned site of Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea, multiple students from UC Santa Barbara spoke during public comment in the University of California Board of Regents meeting against the telescope’s construction in order to protect Indigenous sovereignty.
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project is an endeavor partially funded by the UC to build a large scientific telescope on Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea — land sacred to native Hawaiians — for the purposes of astronomy.
UCSB fourth-year political science major Neha Suvarna urged the UC to divest from the TMT project due to the harm its construction would cause to Indigenous land and its ecosystems.
“UC needs to divest from TMT because it desecrates Indigenous land and has the potential to permanently pollute and damage a fragile ecosystem,” Neha said.
Suvarna emphasized that the funds currently allocated for the TMT project should instead be given back to student needs, from housing to living wages.
“Instead, UC should reinvest the money into [the] community and students that it is responsible for as they desperately need it,” Suvarna said. “The $68 million invested into this project … could have housed about 4,000 students for a year, bought $6 million dining hall meals and granted living wages to more than 20,000 grad students.”
South Bay Indigenous Solidarity organizer Lou Chiaramonte, Jr. touched on the history of Mauna Kea serving as a “ceremonial site” for Indigenous Hawaiians. He said that beyond the environmental harm of the TMT project, it would also impose upon the sacredness of the land.
“There is a great deal of concern amongst the general community regarding that project at that site, which for many Indigenous Hawaiians is an incredibly important sacred site and ceremonial site that has been built on in the past in ways that have damaged the cultural resources of the area and otherwise impacted the land,” Chiaramonte said.
Among the student groups that were present during the Board of Regents meeting was Mauna Kea Protectors (MKP) UCSB — a student activist group working to demand the UC to divest from TMT. Fourth-year political science major and Chair of MKP UCSB Honu Nichols stood in front of the board on behalf of the organization and as a native Hawaiian to speak against the project.
“My first impression of UC was its ill intent to desecrate my homeland and our most sacred sites back in 2015,” Nichols said. “The UC likes to pride itself on diversity and wants everyone at the UC to feel respected and valued, yet continues to support projects perpetuating settler colonialism despite opposition from the Native Hawaiians.”
Nichols spoke about their experience being present at Mauna Kea in 2019 and witnessing the arrest of elders who camped in protest against TMT.
“I’ve stood at the Mauna in 2019, when over 30 elders were arrested, and I’m here in front of you all today to tell you, again, that TMT will never be built,” she said.
Nichols said that the construction of this telescope would exacerbate Hawai’i’s existing water crisis.
“Hawai’i is already dealing with a water crisis, and this telescope will have long-term environmental impacts on surrounding residents and its endemic species,” they said.
UCSB’s Office of the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs also addressed the board, with fourth-year political science and history double major Ethan Moos speaking on the hypocrisy of the TMT project in tandem with the UC’s mission of “education and inclusivity.”
“It is directly antithetical to the mission of education and inclusivity that the UC claims to hold dear,” Moos said. “In fact, it is an act of cultural genocide.”
Activist and cultural practitioner from Hawai’i Liko Martin addressed the TMT project in light of the climate crisis and voiced his wish for the UC to reconsider the project in the name of respect and peace.
“TMT’s construction on the aquifer of Mauna Kea is contemptuous in the face of climate crisis,” Martin said. “My hope is for the UC to preserve its mandate and find courage to reconsider its position, showing the world there is still time for mutual respect, good faith and peace for generations to come.”
UC Regents State Governmental Relations Update
The Public Engagement and Development Committee discussed four legislative bills that are being sponsored by the University of California.
Associate Vice President and Director of State Governmental Relations Kieran Flaherty gave remarks on the ongoing state budget process and the progress of the UC-related bills that have been introduced.
“The bottom line is that the May [revision] reflects very strong revenues. It deals with the state appropriations limit, it continues the very good investments that were proposed for UC in January and it details the agreements that public higher education segments and the governors have achieved in the form of multi-year agreements that have shared policy goals and resources to achieve them,” Flaherty said.
Introduced by State Sen. Richard Roth, the bill SB 883 would extend the closure date of UC Davis’ Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program by four years, from Jan. 1, 2023, to Jan. 1, 2027.
“This bill is currently awaiting final action on the Senate Appropriations Committee suspense file,” the executive summary read.
Co-sponsored by the UC, Sen. Monique Limón’s bill SB 912 would require health care providers to cover biomarker testing and would expand Medi-Cal benefits to include this coverage.
“We have a bill related to biomarker testing for difficult diseases that would expand health plan coverage and Medi-Cal coverage to cover that very important diagnostic and treatment assistance,” Flaherty said.
State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 960 would eliminate the current citizenship requirements that are necessary for one to serve as a peace officer in California. This bill is awaiting action on the Senate floor.
“[This is] a bold and good move that’s progressing,” Flaherty said.
Sen. Dave Min’s SB 1299 would extend the UC-operated California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science through Jan. 1, 2028, and would increase program and application fees. This bill is also awaiting action on the Senate floor.
The bills are required to be passed by the house they were introduced in, either the Senate or the Assembly, by May 27.
UC Regents Amend Financial Aid Policy
The UC Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee approved an amendment to the UC’s financial aid policy that calls for minimizing student loan borrowing and recognizing student experience in the financial aid process.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Brown and Executive Director of Student Financial Support Shawn Brick presented the amendment at the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting on May 18.
The amendment distinguishes loan borrowing from part-time work when considering student contributions, whereas the original policy combined the two as “a manageable contribution from the student in the form of loan and/or part-time work.”
“The preferred outcome of our financial aid strategy is that students can afford their education through opportunities for part-time work made available to them and minimize student loan borrowing,” Brown said.
The amendment also proposed having student experience as a formal metric of evaluating financial need. This includes assessing: food and housing insecurity, the composition of aid awards at various income levels over time, changes in the socioeconomic diversity of the undergraduate student population, and the makeup of undergraduate aid packages at other comparable institutions.
According to a 2019-20 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, nearly 40% of UC-wide students experienced food insecurity, and over 6% were houseless. Citing these statistics, Brick emphasized the need to formally consider those metrics when evaluating financial need.
This financial aid amendment will also be linked with federal aid changes that assess financial need through the Student Aid Index (SAI) rather than the current metric of Expected Family Contribution (EFC), as the regents discussed in their January meeting.
The SAI and EFC measures have the same function in assessing financial need, but the SAI allows the number representing financial need to go below zero, meaning the UC can grant an additional $1,500 in financial aid to students.
“We have over 50,000 students right now with a zero Expected Family Contribution, and the negative number would allow us to have a more finely grained assessment of their ability to pay,” Brick said.
Regent Jose Hernandez praised the amendment for its emphasis on minimizing student loan debt but took issue with the lack of specific numbers presented in terms of debt reduction
“I see these nice words, but I don’t see any sort of metrics or goals,” Hernandez said.
Brick said the current average for UC undergraduate student debt upon graduation is $21,000 and referenced that number as a starting point for reduction.
The amendment aligns with UC President Michael V. Drake’s “path to debt-free” vision for the UC, according to Brown, and works to increase affordability and decrease student loans UC-wide.
UCSB To Hire Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The UC Regents Governance Committee approved UC Santa Barbara Black studies professor Jeffrey Stewart to serve as interim vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at UCSB during their May 18 meeting.
Stewart was announced as interim vice chancellor in December 2021, following the retirement of former Vice Chancellor for Diversity Equity and Inclusion Belinda Robnett that same month and was pending regental approval for official appointment.
“We are grateful for Professor Stewart’s willingness to serve our campus in this important leadership position,” Chancellor Henry T. Yang said in the announcement.
“I will consult and form a search advisory committee for our next Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
Stewart has been working at the university since 2007 and was chair of UCSB’s Department of Black Studies from 2007 to 2016, according to the December announcement. He won a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his book “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” and is also a MacArthur Foundation chair.
Additionally, Stewart spearheaded the Jeffrey’s Jazz Coffeehouse project in Isla Vista, a free, pop-up jazz club that features jazz, blues, soul and Americana music. After beginning the endeavor in the wake of the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy, Stewart has kept it going in following years.
A version of this article appeared on pg. 1 and 3 of the May 19, 2022 Daily Nexus print edition