The Munger Residence Hall would stand 159 feet tall, just below the height of UCSB's Storke Tower. | Credit: Courtesy

AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL:  Nothing says we’re out of the woods with such triumphant hubris as cruise ships in the harbor. For the record, they’re back. COVID, in case you missed it, is officially over. The witch is dead. The fat lady’s sung.

Notwithstanding the scathing denunciation of returning cruise ships that I wrote a few months ago, I’m happy to celebrate the good news. Nothing says “I Heart Santa Barbara” like the billions of dollars we’re told the tourist ships generate for the local economy.

That Chinese cities with population in excess of 10 million inhabitants are now being shut down is, of course, never no mind. What happens in China stays in China, right?  

Since I first weighed in, local medical authorities and the cruise crusaders have modified their proposal. Initially, they proposed banning ill passengers from local hospitals, sending them back to health-care providers at their port of entry. 

That struck me as both impractical and immoral, never a good combination. I am happy to see they’ve changed their tune and afflicted passengers can now spend quality time hanging out in Cottage Hospital’s Emergency Room. This, in my mind, qualifies as a humanitarian breakthrough.

For the record, I come to praise cruise ships, not to bury them. In fact, I think they qualify as the Next Best Thing.

Look at UCSB’s ass-bedraggled chancellor Henry T. Yang, getting raked over the coals for playing the rich man’s stooge to Charlie Munger, the gazillionaire and dilettante architect. Munger proposed building a 12-story dorm — dubbed Dormzilla by Independent writer Tyler Hayden — capable of “housing” roughly 4,600 students. To this end, Munger, we are told, has offered to pony up $200 million for a project that will cost north of $1 billion. 

Some sniffy architects — and show me one who isn’t — objected that there would be no windows for 91 percent of the dorm rooms, terming the project “a psychological experiment.” By now, every newspaper in the nation — okay, so maybe not the News-Press — has castigated the idea. 

Naturally, Chancellor Yang — with 28 years at the helm — has eschewed any face-to-face explanation of anything to anybody on the matter. Nor has his resident Wizard of Oz, John Longbrake, a man reportedly so smart he left the University of Chicago to become Yang’s right-hand brain. If silence were golden, these two would be richer than Munger and wouldn’t need to be his stooge. 

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The whole thing, of course, is a fraud and a sham, designed to placate the howling masses who want to know why the hell Yang hasn’t built nearly as many faculty and student housing units as the campus promised in its Long Range Development Plan the campus committed to in 2010. Depending on how one does the math, the campus is about 5,000 units shy of where it needs to be now. Guess what? That’s about precisely the same as the number of students Munger’s window-free Dormzilla would house. 

Like Sigmund Freud, I don’t believe in coincidences. 

Right now, the UC system is under intense fire to address the egregious student housing problems caused by spiraling enrollments. Things got so bad at Berkeley that just two weeks ago the State Supreme Court upheld an enforcement cap on enrollments there that would have effectively denied admission to 3,000 already accepted students.  

One state legislator introduced a bill to abolish California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it relates to housing projects initiated by any of the state’s public institutes of higher education. Such a bill, if passed, would have greased the skids for Dormzilla. With unheard of unanimity, the state legislature quickly passed another bill that would give campuses such as Berkeley and UCSB an 18-month cushion to conjure housing plans that qualify as credible fiction rather than magical realism. 

Dormzilla, it must be stated, qualifies as the latter. The most compelling objection to Munger’s Dream House comes from local fire officials who worry what will happen the first time there’s a microwave popcorn fire in one of the window-free dorm rooms and a fire-alarm is triggered. Imagine trying to get 4,600 selfie-taking students to march down 12 flights of stairs and out the door. Good luck. And what if there’s a real fire?

The good news, I am told, is there’s no written agreement anywhere that says Munger will give the campus $200 million. Or anything. It’s all a fiction that allows Yang to pretend to be addressing the housing crisis his campus is causing when he’s not. That’s why the City of Goleta sued him. That’s why the County of Santa Barbara might, too.

What’s my point? Cruise ships.

I suggest that Henry contact a cruise ship company and convert a couple of ocean-bound vessels into student housing. I am told they hold 3,000 passengers comfortably. Two should be ample. I’m guessing he could lease such ships for a song from any operator smart enough to understand the re-branding opportunities. “Cruise Ships—Not Just for Old People.”

Deltopia need no longer be Dystopia. Think of the possibilities. Frankly, I’m disappointed that Longbrake hasn’t already. 

Sure, there are issues. But there are also issues with Ross Dress for Less shoppers in Goleta not being able to find parking spaces because of all the UCSB car camping there.

As we all know, there’s nothing so powerful as a crazy idea whose time has come. 

Cruise ships.

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