In 1990, UCSB quietly developed a master plan for the next 20 years of expansion, got it approved by the UC Regents, and then unleashed the massive design upon the greater Santa Barbara community, which promptly freaked out and spent the next decade battling the seaside institution at every possible turn. Now, in 2010, UCSB is again unveiling a 20-year plan, but this time trying to handle the matter a bit differently. “We’re trying to do it in the reverse order,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas to the Goleta City Council last week. “We don’t want to repeat that mistake.”
But while UCSB has involved the City of Goleta, the County of Santa Barbara, and other agencies at nearly every point in the development of this Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), the current push to get it approved and the accompanying Environmental Impact Report certified at the UC Regents’ July 13 meeting is proving a bit unsettling for some. “By putting pressure on the timeline, you’re creating a certain amount of angst that doesn’t need to be there,” said Councilmember Margaret Connell to Lucas on June 15, representing the sentiments of the entire council and staff, as well as a representative from the Metropolitan Transit District, and longtime UCSB professor Richard Flacks, who spoke on behalf of the group Sustainable University Now, or SUN. “We want to work with you,” said Councilmember Roger Aceves. “Please don’t go to the regents without that happening.”
Though Lucas assured that those concerns were relayed to the administration, UCSB still appears intent on seeking the July 13 approval. “[That hearing] is only the next stop on the long path to approval,” explained Lucas in an email, “and, from our perspective, there’s ample time to converge on a cooperative agreement, if not before regents then soon after.” To Lucas — a 1973 UCSB grad and professor of engineering who’s been working on the project for eight years and given more than 55 presentations to the public about it — this is far from a rushed process. “If we don’t get this done in July, we will be the only UC campus not to have done this, and that is not a good position for us to be in,” said Lucas, explaining that critical components of UCSB planning, such as the 10-year capital plan and setting of design standards, require a completed LRDP. Plus, Lucas explained that UCSB is the only UC campus that falls under the California Coastal Commission’s scrutiny, which he believes will take at least a year. “That means there is still lots of time for the community to have input on this,” said Lucas.
Nonetheless, UCSB is still actively seeking to get a “cooperative agreement” in place by July 13. “We’re all working pretty diligently, meeting sometimes two to three times a week with the university,” said a hopeful Derek Johnson, head of Long Range Planning for the County of Santa Barbara. “We’re optimistic, but we’re also realistic that there’s just three weeks ahead of us to draft that agreement.”
City of Goleta officials aren’t so sure, however, especially since they do not have any meetings scheduled again until after July 13. “Any agreement would have to come back to city council for approval, and that doesn’t seem real likely,” said Mayor Eric Onnen, who did say that a special meeting of the council could be called but that he feared public backlash from such a quick, rare move. Based on what he termed an “overridingly positive” relationship between Goleta and UCSB, Onnen believes that the university may just wait until the September regents’ meeting. “I would actually be surprised if they didn’t push it back a little further,” said Onnen this week, “but I’ve been surprised before in other situations.”
In the meantime, there is talk of possibly extending the 30-day window for legal objections that typically follows the certification of an EIR, but it remains unclear whether that’s even possible or whether that alone would assuage the City of Goleta’s concerns. “If they would postpone until September, there would be plenty of time to take care of all this,” said Connell. “If there’s no flexibility in moving the regents’ meeting they go to, I’m afraid that may lead to some conflicts that don’t have to happen.”