UCSB’s Ocean Road Project Raises Concerns

University Administration Facing Possible Housing Pressure

Whoa there: Dick Flacks formed the Sustainable University Now Coalition in order to address the problems they perceive with UCSB's Long-Range Plan for 2025.
Paul Wellman (file)

In an attempt to get going on a portion of its Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for 2025, UCSB has been pushing to get a campus housing project proposed for Ocean Road considered separately from the rest of the plan. The university’s argument that this part of the already controversial plan could be initiated as an amendment to the university’s 1990 LRDP was met with skepticism from members of the public at a November 6 hearing.

Objections to what some are calling a piecemeal approach were met by comments from Tye Simpson, UCSB’s director of campus planning and design, claimed at the meeting that the university is doing what any community would do when making an amendment to its General Plan. The project’s detractors argue that since the LRDP for 2025 is 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 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, 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 be removed, and UCSB’s student health center would be relocated. UCSB’s position has been that the housing and parking are much needed, but community activists say that it is over and above what that area can accommodate. “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 2008 LRDP for 2025, [UCSB] is representing it as an amendment to the 1990 LRDP,” said Dick Flacks, a professor emeritus of sociology at UCSB and a member of SBCAN’s Board of Directors. Along with individuals and groups he said are “concerned with the future of UCSB as a part of the community,” Flacks recently formed the Sustainable University Now (SUN) Coalition to address the many problems they’ve perceived in the LRDP for 2025. “[The Ocean Road project] changes a lot of things. Height limits, for instance-there are buildings that will be taller than anything allowed in the 1990 LRPD,” he said. The apartments and town homes in the development would be anywhere from two to six stories tall.

Flacks posited that university administration is understandably worried about the delays the new LRDP has encountered in its environmental review process, but he also 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. Linda Krop, the Environmental Defense Center’s chief counsel, 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 is still subject to its own environmental review and scrutiny by the California Coastal Commission before anything can be done. “It doesn’t make any sense to do piecemeal planning,” said Uribe.

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 next hearing for the Ocean Road project will be December 20, when many students will be gone for the winter holiday.

Simpson and Marc Fisher-UCSB’s associate vice chancellor for campus design and facilities-were unavailable for comment as of press time.


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