After nearly a decade in the making, UCSB’s plan to expand to 25,000 students by the year 2025 cleared a significant hurdle on Thursday, September 16, as the University of California Regents voted to approve the Long Range Development Plan and certify the accompanying environmental report.
“We are extremely grateful to all who have participated in this process, which has helped make our plan stronger and in harmony with our neighbors and the environment,” said Chancellor Henry Yang in a prepared statement. The plan — which seeks to unify the architecturally mish-mashed campus with numerous pedestrian malls while also nearly doubling the academic space and housing the projected rise in students, faculty, and staff — will likely go down as Yang’s proudest legacy, despite his past success in having lifted the stature of the seaside school tremendously. Indeed, the approval of the LRDP, which also received unanimous support from the City of Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara, comes a day after UCSB was named the 29th best university in the world by the British periodical Times Higher Education.
Concerns nevertheless abound about the impacts of the plan, particularly to water and sanitary resources. Both the Goleta Water District and Goleta Sanitary District have informed the UCSB administration that, at full build-out, the expansion would overwhelm their capacities. Also continuing to express concern — and last week urging both the Goleta City Council and county Board of Supervisors to withhold support of the plan — is Sustainable University Now, or SUN, which is advocating for more alternative transportation and workforce housing, among other improvements.
“We expect to negotiate a legal agreement with the university that will represent a way of dealing with some of our main concerns,” said retired UCSB professor Dick Flacks, one of SUN’s leaders. “We don’t think that prospect has changed simply with this vote.” Included in the agreement, hopes Flacks, will be a reduction in automobile use from present levels over the 15 years of the plan. “The plan itself does not project that,” said Flacks, “but we think we can get them to agree on specifics with respect to that.” He also hopes that UCSB will continue working with the water and sanitary districts to finalize those situations.
Yang, who has been credited repeatedly for involving the community in the planning process for the past two-plus years, has previously said that those conversations will indeed continue, given that it is expected to take at least one year for the Coastal Commission to review the LRDP. “We appreciate the support, approval, and thoughtful review by the UC Regents, whose wise counsel has helped us immeasurably throughout this process,” said Yang, thanking even the loudest critics for their input. “As we look ahead to working with the California Coastal Commission, we will again work closely with the community so that the process is both a transparent and a collaborative one.” And with the Coastal Commission notoriously strict on all aspects of planning and reliant on local input for decisions, UCSB must certainly win over everyone to see their plan emerge unscathed.