Two decades ago, UC Santa Barbara set out to plan the future of its campus and student housing, envisioning the construction of new residential structures and redevelopment of existing buildings that would vastly remake the university.

Courtesy of Urban Design Associates.

Ultimately, UCSB didn’t execute the bulk of the campus development plan that it spent nearly a decade crafting with community members and local governments. Instead, the majority of new university housing is set to arrive via a 3,500-bed, mostly windowless, dormitory known as Munger Hall, developed in private for nearly a decade

Thousands of pages of university and UC Regents documents, as well as existing and erased university websites, detail how the university scrapped well-laid plans for student residences prior to the introduction of the Munger Hall project. 

The current slate of campus planning dates back to the beginning of the 2002-03 academic year. Chancellor Henry T. Yang inherited the 1990 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) — a campus planning document set to expire in the 2005-06 academic year — from his predecessor Barbara Uehling. 

A new development plan would be needed to guide the decades to come, and in 2002, the university hired the small Pittsburgh design company Urban Design Associates (UDA) to map out the campus’ future.

“The update of our Long Range Development Plan will require the participation of our campus community, local governments and the community at large, as well as the UC Office of the President,” Yang said in a June 6, 2003 statement to the campus community. “Planning will be essential to our success in meeting the current financial challenges. And planning is something that our campus community is very good at.”

The effort arrived shortly after students began moving into the newly constructed Manzanita Village complex shortly before the 2002-03 academic year began. It is the only undergraduate UCSB residence hall and one of three undergraduate housing structures to be constructed in the past 54 years, with the next expected to be Munger Hall. 

Three months later, UCSB successfully acquired the privately owned and operated Francisco Torres student housing complex — affiliated with the university but never directly managed by it — after being outbid twice. Shortly after the purchase, it was recommended to Yang that the dormitory receive a name change to fit more in line with the Channel Island theme of other dorms, but he held off on implementation until 2008 when he retitled the structure to Santa Catalina.

The purchase of the land allowed for housing to be built around the dormitories, paving the way for the construction of the San Joaquin Villages, which opened to students in fall 2017 — one of the two undergraduate apartments that UCSB was able to construct in the past 20 years.

Prior to hosting student-exclusive input sessions in the University Center in April 2003, UDA consultants met with government officials from the City of Goleta and Santa Barbara County for input on campus development, inviting them to sit in on meetings with faculty and staff as well. For nine months, the group worked toward developing a plan to improve and redevelop existing campus areas. Over 250 UCSB officials were listed as participating in the extensive process.

From their efforts the Campus Plan was born: a 54-page document outlining a radically reshaped campus. Dozens of low-density buildings across the university would be demolished and replaced with modern structures. The concrete of Storke Plaza would be excavated, grass taking its place. 

Among the planning document’s numerous proposals was the redevelopment of Ocean Road and the stretch of land that divides the university campus from Isla Vista. The Ocean Road residential development aimed to bridge the two, which had a “not strong” relationship at the time according to the document.

First pitched in the 2003 document, the Ocean Road project is still in the planning stages two decades later, according to UCSB’s capital planning page. In order to fulfill current LRDP demands for faculty and staff housing, the Ocean Road project must be built by 2025. 

The Campus Plan was passed to Yang on June 24, 2003, at the monthly meeting of the Campus Planning Committee (CPC), which had reviewed it at a meeting the month prior, the Nexus reported at the time. The plan was detailed to the campus community in a series of presentations the following year.

Independent of the work undertaken by UDA, the Sierra Madre Apartments received UC Regents approval in 2004. The construction of the apartment complex suffered extensive delays but was completed in fall 2015.  

UDA continued its planning efforts with the release of the Campus Housing Study in 2006, which outlined eight different apartment complexes the university could build on and around campus to add bedspaces to the university.

The document twice described the existing student housing situation as a “crisis” and suggested the proposed residences could help to ease the campus’ struggles. 

“The University is in a position to take advantage of many opportunities to begin to solve the housing crisis and create a sustainable and thriving campus community,” the document stated. “There is such a shortage of on-campus housing that many of the upper division students live in Isla Vista because they have no choice. The landlords in Isla Vista provide low quality and costly accommodations because of this shortage.” 

Building off the Campus Plan and Campus Housing Study, UCSB’s Housing & Residential Services began developing an updated LRDP, which would chart the course of campus development through 2025. Chancellor Yang appointed a LRDP working group to facilitate its preparation — consulting with the local government and state officials, utility providers and various community groups.

By 2007, significant progress had been made on a draft of the LRDP, which had been dubbed “Vision 2025” in reference to the year through which it would dictate campus development. 

By the time UCSB held a public hearing for the campus and Isla Vista communities to discuss the Vision 2025 plan in June of 2008, the university had already submitted the plan to the state government. Months prior, then-UC President Robert Dynes sent a complete draft of the LRDP to the Sacramento office of state Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, then-chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for review.

Urban Design Associates outlined a reshaped campus that included plans for a slew of new student housing developments. Courtesy of UDA.

When a public hearing on the LRDP finally arrived on June 4 — delayed from April and scheduled for the middle of dead week — only one student attended. Then-President of UCSB Associated Students Stephanie Brower expressed her personal outrage. 

Yang spoke to the UC Regents about the nearly completed LRDP in a July 14, 2010, meeting, by which point the university had spent the better part of eight years preparing the future of campus development. All other UC campuses had gained Regents’ approval of their respective LDRPs at that time, minutes of an April 27, 2010, CPC meeting show.

Despite the campus challenges UCSB was facing — Yang described lagging information technology infrastructure, faculty retention and larger classes with limited TAs and tutors to the Regents — he said the university must still continue to deliver in the face of such challenges. UC Regents approved the new LRDP at its September 2010 meeting.

Agreed upon with unanimous votes from both the City of Goleta and Santa Barbara County, the 2010 LRDP included a campus housing mandate, requiring the university to add 5,000 undergraduate bedspaces by 2025 to keep up with increasing enrollment. 

Following the ratification of the 2010 LRDP, UCSB began weeding out what housing proposals it would move forward with, and which it would scrap.

Drawing on the 2006 Campus Housing Study, the 2010 LRDP presented plans to replace the Storke Family housing complex, which had “rapidly deteriorated due to problems with its initial construction” to a point necessitating the demolition of the existing units.

The redevelopment of the complex was abandoned due to insufficient funding, minutes of a February 2008 CPC meeting reveal. Similar plans outlined in the 2010 LRDP to entirely redevelop the Santa Ynez Apartments never materialized for unknown reasons.

The university instead focused its housing efforts on finishing the San Joaquin Villages and Sierra Madre Apartments, which added a combined 1,500 bed spaces to the university.

By 2011, planning had begun on a third student apartment known as Mesa Verde. As was outlined in the Campus Housing Study, the Mesa Verde Apartments would take the place of the existing nine-acre Facilities Management site and create a set of new residential apartments.

The extent of planning the university undertook for Mesa Verde was limited to site capacity studies, according to UCSB Media Relations Manager Kiki Reyes.

“The only analyses undertaken for the Mesa Verde project were site capacity studies,” Reyes said in a statement to the Nexus. “While the Mesa Verde was listed as an anticipated project in our Capital Financial Plan, there was no planning beyond the concept that was mentioned in the Campus Housing Study and the Long Range Development Plan.”

A sketch of what housing at the facilities management site could look like prepared by Urban Design Associates. Courtesy UDA.

​​Despite this, the university spent $12.5 million on a Goleta warehouse to facilitate the relocation of the Facilities Management site in preparation for the Mesa Verde project, per minutes of an April 30, 2013, CPC meeting.

After appearing for eight years in various university documents, the project was eventually scrapped by the university for unknown reasons. Munger Hall — a project developed in private for years by Yang and Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger — replaced Mesa Verde on budget documents.

The project was initially announced in 2016 as two dense towers that would take the place of Channel Islands 5 residence halls. That design was scrapped, and UCSB made no public mention of the project for over five years. The dormitory was reintroduced in 2021 with a new 11-story design that took over the site once slated for Mesa Verde.

The design was met with widespread criticism for its windowless bedrooms and faced a national backlash against the design.

Santa Barbara County officials, who had been extensively involved and consulted with the campus planning process leading up to the LRDP, first learned about Munger Hall during its initial public announcement on July 27, 2021.

“At no time was a project of this size and scale anticipated in the LRDP EIR,” two county supervisors wrote of the project in an unsent letter. “The Munger Hall option obfuscates the extensive environmental review and thoughtful collaborative planning that occurred to ensure the planned and timely delivery of housing.”

As the 2021-22 academic year neared, over 1,000 students were still in search of housing. The university resorted to housing hundreds of students in hotels, a temporary emergency situation that extended through winter quarter.

The City of Goleta filed a lawsuit against UCSB in 2021, accusing the university of violating its obligations under the LRDP by failing to provide the required student bedspaces, which in turn caused the city damages, it alleged.

Santa Barbara County similarly alleged that the university had violated the LRDP by over-enrolling students. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to file a lawsuit against the university, alleging that it would not provide the 5,000 student bed spaces required under the LRDP by 2025. To date, only 1,500 of the required bed spaces have been added.

Now, as the university finds itself once again nearing the expiration of its existing LRDP, it has no timeline for initiating planning of a new LRDP, according to Reyes.

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Nov. 17, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Mark Alfred
Mark Alfred (he/him) is the university news editor for the 2022-23 school year. Contact: markalfred@dailynexus.com or 858-413-7384 (text/Signal).