Despite a faculty that includes five Nobel Prize winners and being ranked in the Top 5 among public universities in the nation, UC Santa Barbara is seldom mentioned in southern California’s major newspaper — the Los Angeles Times.
But all that changed early this month when 10 Letters to the Editor were published in the Times, led by a long opinion piece by the architect, Dennis McFadden, whose resignation led to much of the furor, and an editorial staff opinion on the same date.
All missives concentrate on the absence of “real” windows in the 11-story, $1.5 billion dorm UCSB proposes to build on campus, with $200 million contributed by the building’s designer, the unsanctioned architect Charlie Munger, as though this was the only issue at stake.
I have no opinion on the proposed Munger dorm. I’m also unsanctioned.
However, I spent 30 years as a community organizer in and around Isla Vista, the half-square mile of private development embedded in the UCSB campus, which has grown to surround it on three sides. I’ve bucked headwinds through five chancellors, and I know where some of the bodies are buried.
What is missing in these 10 Letters to the Editor and two opinion pieces is any mention of the elephant in the room — UCSB over-enrollment. With its 15,000-18,000 residents, most of whom are college students and over 95 percent renters, Isla Vista bears the brunt of rapid enrollment expansion far in excess of the area’s housing supply. UCSB’s 2010 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) called for 25,000 total students in 2025; it hit 25,976 in the fall of 2018 and was 26,179 in 2020 (bap.ucsb.edu). Data for 2021 is elusive.
The current rapid enrollment increases and their consequences are not a unique occurrence for UCSB. Rents in Isla Vista increased double-digits annually for 1974-1986 as UCSB upped its enrollment from 13,327 to 18,005 — in a period that saw a minimal increase in the local housing supply because of a building moratorium.
It appears the area has entered a similar period. As I write, hundreds of UCSB students are being housed in off-campus hotels for lack of space in Isla Vista or UCSB dorms, both of which appear to be at 100 percent of capacity. One can only imagine how rents in Isla Vista — already the most expensive in cost per bedroom in the County of Santa Barbara — have increased over the past few years.
Meanwhile, the reader has to look beyond the L.A. Times to find that 88 percent of the students like the prototype dorm Munger helped build at the University of Michigan. CNN quotes a poll that found that “the building has a rating of 8.8 out of 10 on veryapt.com. Reviewers praise the building’s amenities … .”
Almost a week after the initial barrage, the Times dug deeper and found that the real problem was that UCSB was expanding its enrollment beyond the ability of both the campus and surrounding communities to accommodate, which it wrote up in “Editorial: UC is at the tipping point with overcrowding.”
A few days ago, the adjacent City of Goleta announced it is suing UCSB for its failure to provide adequate housing for its expanding enrollment as it promised in its 2010 LRDP.
The bottom line is UCSB needs the 4,500 beds the Munger dorm will supply — with or without real windows — for its relentlessly expanding enrollment, which might exceed 30,000 in its next LRDP (delayed).
But it’s going to be a couple years of tough sledding as everyone endures the sluggish way the U has responded to this situation.
Carmen Lodise was twice elected to public office in Isla Vista, helped establish the town’s 23-park system where there was only one when he arrived in 1972, was a leader in the town’s three failed attempts to secure an election on becoming a city and the town’s 40-year successful campaign to secure a community center. He also published the town’s longest-running weekly newspaper: the Isla Vista Free Press (1987-89). He is the principal author of Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History (second edition, 2019). Lodise retired to Barra de Navidad, Mexico in 2015.