UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Citing UCSB’s chronic failures to address the acute housing needs generated by the campus’s growing student population, the Santa Barbara County supervisors voted 5-0 in closed session Tuesday to sue the university.

Technically, the lawsuit alleges the campus violated the terms of a 2010 agreement known as the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). That requires the campus to build 5,000 additional housing units by the year 2025 or whenever the student enrollment exceeded 25,000, whichever came first. County housing planners contend that number has been exceeded and that efforts to get UCSB officials to explain how and where they intend to build the requisite housing have gone for naught.

“Despite numerous attempts by the County to secure a reliable timeline as to when UCSB will build the required housing, there is no timeline or commitment by UCSB for when the requirement will be addressed,” stated County Supervisor Gregg Hart, in whose district UCSB is located. “Litigation was the only path remaining to compel UCSB to act upon their obligation.” This is the second of such lawsuits filed against UCSB because of the housing issue. Two years ago, the City of Goleta sued on identical grounds.

The LRDP was an attempt to negotiate an orderly path by which UCSB could gradually increase enrollments from 20,000 students to 25,000. Beyond the additional 5,000 students, the agreement allows the campus to expand by 336 faculty members and 1,400 staff. To date, the campus has built 1,500 new units of housing. That’s 3,500 short of the agreement. In the past, the campus has argued that it hasn’t really exceeded the 25,000 mark, pointing out there are always 10 percent fewer students in the spring than when they enroll in the fall. In addition, they have until 2025 to build the housing.

In the past few years, Chancellor Henry Yang has highlighted the massive dormitory promised by billionaire investor Charlie Munger, known alternately as Munger Hall or “Dormzilla.” As initially designed, the dorm would stand 11 stories off the ground and house approximately 4,500 students. This proposal has become a flashpoint of considerable controversy, especially by those concerned by a lack of bedroom windows and the emergency evacuation logistics posed by so many students.

UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes contended the university has been involved in good-faith discussions with the county over student housing since experiencing “significant and unanticipated undergraduate enrollment increases several years ago at the behest of the State of California.”

“The University and the County have a shared goal of providing more on-campus housing for our students,” Reyes continued. “We look forward to continuing our discussions with the County and are hopeful that any lawsuit does not result in needless and expensive litigation, instead of ongoing collaboration.”

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