Being a university campus located on two-and-a-half miles of beautiful coastline comes with a price: getting final approval for long-term expansion plans from the California Coastal Commission. That’s exactly what UCSB’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) will seek on Thursday at the commission’s monthly meeting up in Half Moon Bay.
University staff will present amendments to its 15-year expansion plan — nine additional housing developments across 37 acres — that calls for 5,000 more undergraduate students and 1,380 more graduate students by 2025. This growth would necessitate 400 more faculty and 1,400 more staffers, who would be added to a campus community of approximately 35,680 people. The Coastal Commission staff report recommends approval with 20 modifications, which carefully detail a number of measures to improve sustainability. The timing of this review coincidently juxtaposes against UC’s announcement last week that tuition will likely increase by 5 percent each year over the next five years, totaling $15,563 by 2019. Five years ago, UC tuition was $7,473.
Though UCSB boasts the U.S. Green Building Council’s education award, national recognition for water conservation, and an award for being bike-friendly, in an era saturated with concern about climate change, its expansion plans — though deemed necessary by many — face some scrutiny. When a draft of the ambitious plan was first released six years ago, longtime professor and environmentalist Dick Flacks was unnerved by the lack of attention from the environmental community. He spearheaded the creation of the Sustainable University Now (SUN) coalition, which, after considerable back and forth with the university, formally agreed to support the plan in 2011. Flacks said the 675-page commission staff report, released this week, not only included all the pieces that most concerned SUN but the language was much stronger and effective. “I think everyone is on the same page, and that wasn’t true five years ago,” he said.
According to UCSB spokesperson George Foulsham, the university is in agreement with the 20 modifications in the LRDP. “Overall, it’s been a long, collaborative, collegial process,” he added. One of SUN’s biggest goals was to shift campus culture away from the automobile by providing fewer parking spaces than the rate at which the campus population grows. And, for commuters who live nearby in university housing, “Some people live maybe a mile away, but we’re saying they should get to campus without having to drive,” Flacks said. According to the staff report, if parking exceeds 85 percent capacity — lots are currently two-thirds full — the university should give more attention to alternative transportation, such as driving pools, bike riding, and bus transportation.
A new site known as San Joaquin could potentially house as many as 1,000 students and hold eight faculty or staff units. New housing for faculty and staff could be some of the most affordable in the region, Flacks reasoned. Even if the Coastal Commission approves UCSB’s plan on Thursday, each of the nine new housing developments and other campus buildings would require separate commission approval.
As for water, according to Goleta Water District’s Ryan Drake, the district has accounted for maximum UCSB build-out, even considering the multiple dry years of late. The staff report calls for more reclaimed water in place of potable water for irrigation, toilets, and industrial applications — which UCSB now does to a degree. Also, a comprehensive annual report of the campus’s water status, including results of short-term water reductions, will be required.
The staff report also includes smaller but very specific modifications, including redesignating several acres from “housing” or “recreation” to “open space” near the Storke Apartments, West Campus Mesa Recreation, and the Devereux north and south knolls; installing more lights near Harder Stadium; applying a glazing treatment for all new buildings to make them bird-safe; and updating Coal Oil Point with three disabled parking spaces, bike racks, picnic tables, ADA-approved trails, and perhaps restrooms and a drinking fountain.
“My most optimistic self says the international and national response to climate change is terrible, but beneath that radar, universities are planning for sustainability. That makes a difference,” said Flacks.