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UCSB’s Ocean Road Project Raises Concerns

University Administration Facing Possible Housing Pressure


In an attempt to get a portion of its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for 2025 in the works, UCSB has been pushing to get a campus housing project proposed for Ocean Road to be considered separately from the rest of the plan. The university’s argument that this aspect of an already contentious plan could be initiated as an amendment to the 1990 LRDP met with overt skepticism from members of the public at a hearing on November 6. Objections to what some called a piecemeal approach were met by comments from UCSB Director of Campus Planning Tye Simpson, who indicated that the approach taken by the university is similar to that of any community making an amendment to its General Plan. The project’s detractors, however, argue that the since the 2008 LRDP currently under review - of which the Ocean Road development is part - has not been passed, dealing with it separately goes against the existing LRDP and the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process.

Adjacent to Isla Vista along the western boundary of UCSB’s main campus, the Ocean Road project would include 532 units containing faculty, staff, and graduate student housing as well as commercial space, and more than 1,000 parking spaces. The row of eucalyptus trees that now stands along Ocean Road next to Isla Vista’s easternmost houses would have to be removed, and UCSB’s student health center would be relocated.

The university’s position has been that the housing and parking are much needed, but community activists claim the proposal is over and above what it needed for that specific area. “The project includes so much more parking than is required by the housing they’re building,” said Olivia Uribe, the associate director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN).

Even though the Ocean Road project is an integral part of the [LRDP for 2025, UCSB] is representing it as an amendment to the 1990 LRDP,” said Dick Flacks, a retired of UCSB sociology professor and a member of SBCAN’s Board of Directors. Flacks, along with individuals and groups he said are “concerned with the future of UCSB as a part of the community,” recently formed the Sustainable University Now (SUN) Coalition to address the problems they perceive in the 2008 LRDP.

The group has stated that although they are not opposed to the updated LRDP, they have found many ways that it can be made better. Organizations involved in the Coalition include the Citizens Planning Association Land Use Committee, the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST), the Community Environmental Council, the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, SBCAN, and the Los Padres Chapter of Sierra Club. “[The Ocean Road project] changes a lot of things,” Flacks claimed. “Height limits for instance: There are buildings that will be taller than anything allowed in the 1990 LRPD.”

As planned, the apartments and town homes in the development would be anywhere from two to six stories tall. Marc Fisher, UCSB’s associate vice chancellor for campus design and facilities, said fears that the university is trying to hide a larger project are unfounded. “The LRDP is out there. It’s all common knowledge,” he said. From UCSB’s perspective, the Ocean Road project anticipates the potential for all the other growth included in its updated LRDP.

Flacks posited that the university’s administration is understandably worried about the delays the new LRDP has encountered in its CEQA review process, but said that extracting elements of the plan would go against the very nature of long-range planning. With real estate prices and housing availability becoming a concern for many of UCSB’s employees, the faculty housing issue appears to be one of the administration’s major motivations for moving ahead with the project, Flacks said. However, some of the people who spoke at last week’s meeting wondered aloud if employees and grad students would be interested in an area of campus that is not known for quiet living conditions.

Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, said that although the LRDP amendment process has been going on for nearly two years, the Ocean Road project is only a part of it, and will still be subject to environmental review and scrutiny by the California Coastal Commission on its own before anything can be done. “It doesn’t make any sense to piecemeal planning,” said Uribe, echoing Flacks’ comments that the university’s development plans should be considered holistically.

Some speakers at last week’s meeting, many of them students, objected to what they said was limited public notice prior to the meetings, and also to the fact that some of the meetings will be held at times that are inconvenient for students. “The timing is terrible,” said Flacks. “This is going on during Thanksgiving and winter break.” The next hearing for the Ocean Road project will be held on December 20, when many students will be gone for the winter holiday.

Fisher acknowledged that timing has been a challenge, and that many students had also voiced concerns about the potential impact of the project upon student fees, and the university’s commitment to green development. “The base certification across the UC system will be LEED silver,” he said.

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